KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Kirtland Family Housing held an interactive service dog educational event for base housing officials May 25, 2021, at Kirtland AFB, N.M., featuring trainers and canines from Assistance Dogs of the West, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, N.M.
The presentation, by Linda Milanesi, CEO and president of ADW, covered the extensive requirements candidate dogs must complete in their 18-24 months of training to qualify under the auspices of Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of not-for-profit organizations that train and place assistance dogs.
Attendees learned the differences between emotional support animals – family pets that may or may not be trained in obedience – and service dogs, which are professionally trained and certified to perform tasks for people who need them, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and New Mexico Service Animal Act.
Meagan Gorsuch, a visually impaired resident of Kirtland Family Housing who uses a guide dog, spoke about some close calls she’s had while walking on base, and the value of her guide dog.
“I had one of the scariest experiences ever. (Without the guide dog,) I might not be standing here today. There was an 18-wheeler truck with a trailer, and I noticed the truck didn’t go. I thought maybe he was waiting for me, so I went ahead and crossed the street. Before I know it, I see red and white, and she (the guide dog) is pushing me back. When she pushes me backward, my arm goes back, so I know to back up. It’s a natural reaction now that we do, without thinking, as a team – if she moves, I move. I’m very thankful that she’s trained to react to cars, whether that means to back up, or in some cases, the car will come behind us, and she’ll go (forward) very fast,” she said.
John Kirk, housing program manager at the Kirtland AFB Military Housing Office, summarized the purpose of the event.
“The Military Housing Office sponsored this training to explain and demonstrate to base housing officials the stark differences between legitimate service animals and pets with a vest. Assistance Dogs of the West uses intense canine selection criteria and a multi-year training plan that instills intense devotion in each graduate service animal toward their paired handler. This event clearly distinguished the need for such training in order to maintain safe housing environments while complying with federal laws. The Military Housing Office achieved its goal to educate base housing officials so that together, we can help decrease the risks to base housing residents brought by pets posed as service animals,” he said.
For more information about Assistance Dogs of the West, go to the organization’s website: https://assistancedogsofthewest.org/.