America’s VetDogs

videos: America’s VetDogs, YouTube

Each year, I look for unique Christmas cards to send that mean something special to me.  It’s always a fun project for me to decide what to create or buy.  I often start months ahead!

Last year, I was thrilled to find animal themed cards that supported two organizations in my home state of NY: America’s VetDogs and The Guide Dog Foundation.  In the next few blog posts, I hope to share some information about these organizations.  After buying the cards, I’ve received news updates and have grown rather attached to their mission and hope to highlight the good work they do.

America’s VetDogs was founded in 2003 to help returning veterans not only with physical tasks, but also with mental health healing and support.

It costs $50,000 to train and place a service dog.  The Today Show has been following one dog, Charlie, in hopes to raise awareness and funds for the organization.  Operation VetDogs hopes to raise $250,000 or more.

An example of a success story featured in America’s VetDogs newsletter: Joe Worley lost much of his left leg (as well as suffering damage to the other leg) in Iraq.  He came home with mental anguish as well, finding it difficult to adjust to daily life as a civilian  with terrible injuries that required him to depend heavily on others.

His VetDog Benjamin gave him confidence to try more tasks and also opened him up socially.  Before having the dog, he would walk only a few steps from his wheelchair before becoming discouraged.  With Benjamin, he could spend 85% of his day wearing his prosthetic and looking forward to the tasks ahead of him.

Joe now works for America’s VetDogs, presenting at shows, conventions, and schools across the country.   He works as a veterans relations liaison, making sure dogs and vets are paired together well.

Benjamin is now retired and is a pet in his family.  His new service dog is Galaxie.

Above are videos showcasing some of the skills the dogs are trained to do.

You can shop at and/or support VetDogs here.

video below: Today Show featuring Joe, Benjamin, Galaxie, and Charlie



PTSD featured in new play

Sometimes those who serve in America’s armed forces find themselves fighting the enemy on two fronts — one wearing the same uniform as they do.

For victims of military sexual assault, it’s often a case of “don’t ask don’t tell, and pretend it never happened.” They can end up waging an intensely private war that takes more mental strength to endure than combat duty.

Playwright Jamie Pachino’s Other Than Honorable breaks this silence by shedding light on the harsh and jarring realities of power and abuse in the military, and not just against women. The intense, thought-provoking and wholly riveting drama about a victim who attempts to take back her own life is a must-see during its world premiere run at Geva Theatre Center’s Wilson Stage through May 21.

The above excerpt about the new play “Other Than Honorable” is from the Democrat and Chronicle.

I went to see this play last night.  I thought the acting and set were superb, and the story timely and important.  My only critism is that the main character Grace faces so much trauma (past abuse, PTSD, husband hurt while on third tour of duty in Afghanistan, dealing with addiction, dealing with unexpected pregnancy, etc.) that each of her experiences doesn’t get the full attention and analysis it deserves.

We see PTSD discussed vaguely in the news almost weekly, so it surprised me to learn the American Psychiatric Association only began using the term in 1980.

I think most are aware that PTSD brings back traumatic events (sometimes in the form of detailed flashbacks) and creates a sense of panic and loss of control.

But, it is not just an emotional reaction – the brain has actually changed its chemistry.  The stress hormones are high and remain active, which can actually dull the person’s response to true danger signals.  It can make it far more difficult for the brain to process new information, and therefore people have a tough time with learning from fresh mistakes.  In addition, since the person is in a way “stuck” in the past, the imagination dulls and the future is cloudy and seems uninteresting.  No wonder, then, that aggressive behavior, depression, and suicide rates rise.

In the news, PTSD is associated with military men and women returning home from duty.  But, it can happen to anyone who has experienced trauma.

How can one recover?  First, PTSD is not curable like a long bout with a virus or bacterial infection is.  The trauma will always be a consequential moment of that person’s life story and thus be a significant part of their self.  But, cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful to help those suffering so they can arm themselves with coping techniques.  Many find yoga or meditation to be an effective way to return to the present moment as it calms the nervous system.  Self expression in the form of art, music, or writing often is therapeutic.  Medications can also be enormously beneficial, but obviously the doctor and patient need to be on the lookout for any negative side effects.

Having a supportive group of family, friends, and medical personnel are also key to a person with PTSD to be able to feel joy once again and to be able to create new, positive memories in his or her life.

Northern Rangelands Trust: saving wildlife, improving communities

The Northern Rangelands Trust believes that conservation is not only good from an environmental standpoint, but an economic one as well.  That is why they have worked in Northern Kenya with help from USAID to invest in saving elephants and increasing eco-tourism.  NRT was founded in 2004, and has done amazing work.  There has been a significant decline in poaching in areas where they operate.  CITES estimated in 2014 that 60% of killed African elephants were killed illegally – but that number was 46% in Northern Kenya and was continuing to trend downwards.


From Forbes Magazine:

In 2015, tourism revenues to NRT conservancies from entry and bed-night fees totaled over US$ 410,000 – a really significant income for these remote and marginalized communities, derived from their wildlife. Two safari lodges – Sarara and Il Ngwesi – are actually owned by the community, who contract operators to manage them. Wildlife tourism revenues are split 40/60 – with 40% going toward annual conservancy operating costs (like ranger salaries and vehicle fuel) and 60% going toward development projects deemed a priority by the constituent community at their Annual General Meetings. Most commonly the communities decide to spend these funds on educational bursaries for the poorest family, health care support, and water supplies to reduce the burden on women from collecting water from afar.

Health in Harmony

Rainforest destruction leads to short term profits.  Logging and palm oil plantations are big money industries, and employ many people.  Yet, these industries are dangerous for the long term health of local communities and the world.  Destroying forests increases pollution and disease.  It dramatically worsens our climate change problem.

Health in Harmony is an organization that provides alternative sources of income for local populations, such as by providing training and support for sustainable farming or giving goats to low income women (they can sell the milk and manure).  It also partners with healthcare organizations to provide discounted health costs for local families.

By helping the human population, Health in Harmony is helping to save the rainforests and the wildlife too.


Deforestation and Viruses

Most people know that deforestation raises CO2 in our atmosphere.  But, it also causes viruses to enter humans and spread rapidly.

Animals such as bats carry viruses.  Many of these viruses have been present in rainforest animals for many years but have remained deep in the forest away from human populations.

Nowadays, many rainforests are being destroyed en masse – especially in Borneo for palm oil plantations.  Palm oil is now used in many of our food and beauty products – in other words, we are ingesting and spreading products on our skin that could potentially carry viruses previously unknown to human populations.

From NPR:

In the past 40 years, more than a third of the Borneo rain forest has been destroyed. About half of that land has turned into palm oil plantations…

Right now, only 15 percent of the world’s rain forests is still intact. The rest has been burned flat. Broken into pieces. Or converted into farms, ranges for cattle, metal mines — even shopping malls.

“It’s soybeans in the Amazon. It’s suburban development in the U.S. Every part of this planet has been modified by people in some way,” Olival says. “We’re changing the environment in ways that are really unprecedented in human history.”

Wild animals are now refugees. They have no home. So they come live in our backyards. They pee on our crops. Share our parks and playgrounds. Giving their viruses a chance to jump into us and make us sick.

“So it’s really the human impact on the environment that’s causing these viruses to jump into people,” Olival says.



With the Republicans once again in power, it is no surprise “The Mexico City Policy” has been reinstated.  Global health is sadly politicized.  Republican presidents remove funding from world organizations that offer abortion services, and then Democrats reinstate funding.  World health organizations have become accustomed to this ping-pong policy.  Yet, as the BBC writes:

“The Trump order goes even further than previous Republican administrations, which only targeted reproductive health services, by extending the ban to cover all global health assistance provided by all departments or agencies.”

This will likely increase the spread of diseases such as malaria.  It will reduce family planning and sex education, increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs (including HIV).

One aspect of the pro-life movement I have difficulty understanding is the concept that legally banning abortion somehow will reduce unwanted pregnancies.  Instead, many women will have unsafe abortions.

In Time Magazine this week there is an interview with Dr. Willie Parker, who is now an abortion provider in the South.  He grew up in Alabama with Christian values, firmly believing in the pro-life movement when he became a doctor.

What happened?

In the interview he explains.

I had to think more seriously…about the fact that I see women on a regular basis who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.  The compassion that welled up inside of me for each woman – each woman had a story…it came to a point where…what I believed and what I practiced began to come into conflict.

My epiphany came while listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King.  In that sermon he described what made the Good Samaritan good.  Someone had been robbed, left on the side of the road injured, and multiple people passed that person by.  They were all afraid of what might happen to them if they stopped to help…the Samaritan stopped and provided aid.  Dr. King said what made that person good was his ability to reverse the question of concern, to ask what will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help.

Waris Dirie and the campaign to stop FGM

Supermodel and actress Waris Dirie was a victim of female genital mutilation.  She is now an activist, seeking to outlaw the procedure and hoping to educate communities in the dangers of the practice.  This video from the Desert Flower Foundation can be found on YouTube.

The one area where I disagree is that I believe FGM can be considered a cultural and religious practice.  Culture can be defined as simply as common practices in a social group.  And, religious leaders over the centuries have interpreted religion differently – the Shafi’i school of Islamic law, for example, has encouraged FGM.

That is not to say that culture and religious belief should be set in stone – clearly, FGM is brutal and wrong.  The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is Chinese foot binding.  Foot binding mutilated girls for life and was a widespread cultural practice, even in the early 20th century.  The history of foot binding goes back to the 10th century.

There were outspoken critics who wrote articles, educated communities, and spoke to the press in the late 1800s.

In 1912, the government finally banned the practice.  Numbers declined significantly in the 1920s as women’s rights became a worldwide discussion.

By 1949, the only cases of foot binding were scattered in the most rural, small communities.

The same can happen for FGM – so, please, talk about it.  The more people are aware, the more likely things will change.