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WDVA goes to the dogs

Conference focuses on service dogs and veterans

Washington Department of Veterans Affairs Service Dog Program Coordinator John George with his goldendoodle, Alphie. Courtesy photo

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Most of us have seen service dogs. Sometimes we'll spy one at a restaurant, laying calmly by its master's feet. Or perhaps in the mall, walking sedately as its owner makes his or her way through hordes of people. Usually distinguished by their tell-tale vests, service dogs are trained to assist with a myriad of conditions, including vision and hearing impairment, epilepsy, paralysis, diabetes and more. But a service dog is much more than the vest it wears.  For servicemembers and veterans suffering from visible and invisible wounds of war, including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, these highly-trained dogs provide physical and emotional support that can truly save lives.

But for some, there is confusion about what service dogs can and can't do. Thursday, Aug. 7, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) and King County Veterans Program are hosting a daylong conference entitled "Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs" at Green River Community College in Auburn.

Geared for veterans, veteran service providers, dog trainers and local business owners, the event is designed to foster awareness and educate the public about the different roles of service dogs.

"It's really to educate the general population about what service animals can and can't do," said Dorothy Hanson, MA, LMHC, the Behavioral Health Program director at WDVA.

Conference presenters, including WDVA Service Dog Program Coordinator John George (with his goldendoodle, Alphie), will discuss and demystify the different types of service dogs, such as emotional support dogs, companion dogs and therapy dogs.

The event's keynote speaker is Kathryn Champion, a former science teacher from Thurston and Yakima counties. Champion, a U.S. Army reservist who deployed to Iraq where she commanded a civil affairs unit and earned the Bronze Star Medal, lost her vision due to a virus contracted downrange that caused her optic nerve to deteriorate.

Also on the docket is Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient currently stationed with the 7th Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and service dog proponent.

Hanson notes that currently there is no nationally recognized certification for service dogs. Therefore, some dogs may be better trained - and behaved - than others. Moreover, not all dogs wearing a vest are professionally trained service animals.

The conference will also include a panel discussion that will highlight the different methods of training service dogs. For instance, some may be owner trained or rescues, while others are specifically bred for service. Representatives from Northwest Battle Buddies and Prison Partnerships will also take the stage.

"It's just a good lineup of interesting, informative presenters," Hanson said.

For more information about the event, visit

Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs, Aug. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Green River Community College, Lindbloom Student Center, 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. $10 administration fee. Lunch will be provided. Register online at by July 30. 

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