Vance wants 'sensitive solution' to base restrictions for vet with service dog
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2016 10:34AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2016 10:10PM EST
The Canadian military is looking for a more "sensitive solution" to accommodate a service dog belonging to a soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder at a base in Edmonton, the chief of the defence staff says.
Gen. Jonathan Vance said he is "very likely" to side with Sgt. Jeffrey Yetman, in Yetman's fight to keep his service dog at his side while visiting essential facilities at the military base he calls home.
Yetman was recently informed that his service dog, Diego, was not permitted to accompany him to facilities including the mess hall, the gym and the family resource centre at Canadian Division Support Base Edmonton. Yetman, who lives at the base, says the restrictions on his dog are making it harder for him to leave the house or go about his daily activities, because he relies on the emotional support his dog provides.
"Right now I have no idea where I can go," he told CTV News on Tuesday. He said, in some cases, he either has to leave his dog at home – which causes him emotional distress – or he doesn't go out at all.
On Wednesday, Vance acknowledged that he's aware of the situation, and hopes to find a way to accommodate all those involved.
"The chain of command in Edmonton is working on this, and will reach out to him and arrive at a more sensitive solution, and one that's based collaboratively with him," Vance told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. He also pointed out that the base must balance other concerns because some people are afraid of dogs, while others have allergies to them.
He added that service dogs are a "contested area" when it comes to their therapeutic value, as there is no "body of medical science" on their potential benefits for PTSD sufferers. However, he also acknowledged there is plenty of "anecdotal evidence" that they can be helpful.
"I am grateful that his dog is making his life better," Vance said. "Believe me, I will very likely come down on the side of Sgt. Yetman in terms of his ability to access the base and the programs that he needs."
Yetman was matched up with Diego two years ago, through the Wounded Warriors Weekend Foundation. He says his mobility and his quality of life have "improved greatly" since he was paired with the animal.
"I'm not so afraid of crowds -- I still have issues with it -- but he has my back for the most part," Yetman told CTV News.
Yetman has credited the dog with helping him turn his life around after he pleaded guilty to assault two years ago -- an incident he believes stems from his PTSD.
“It was something I had to face. Something I owned. I decided not to hide from it. Diego brought me back from it. (I) hold my head up high again,” he said.
The base recently posted rules prohibiting anyone with a service animal from visiting its major facilities, without first giving 24 hours' notice. Yetman said, prior to those rules going up, he was free to take Diego with him anywhere he needed to go on the base.
A spokesperson for the base said the problem stems from the fact Yetman's dog does not qualify as a service animal under Alberta's Service Dogs Act. The act requires service dogs to be trained through a school accredited by Assistance Dogs International.
"If someone had an ADI certified service dog, and had a reason to be on the base, we will do our best to accommodate," Capt. Donna Riguidel told CTV News in a statement on Tuesday. She added that the base recognizes the value of "emotional support animals," and said the base will do its best to accommodate them on a "case-by-case basis."
Yetman is in the process of being medically discharged from the Canadian Forces, after developing PTSD during several tours overseas, in countries including Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Yetman is one of four Armed Forces members with a service animal at the base. None of the animals are accredited through ADI.