Lacey conference focuses on pairing service dogs with wounded veterans

Staff writerNovember 22, 2013 

Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván summed up life after 17 years of military service and multiple combat tours in Iraq.

“I was a goner in 2008,” said The New York Times best-selling author during a conference Friday in Lacey hosted by the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

But that was before Tuesday — a golden retriever — entered his life, Montalván told about 150 people, including Washington first lady Trudi Inslee, at Friday’s daylong event, coined “Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs” at the Saint Martin’s University Norman Worthington Center. About a dozen canine companions attended as well.

The conference featured information about service, emotional support and therapy dogs, and was designed to lay the groundwork for a new policy that could help match more service dogs with wounded veterans, said Dorothy Hanson, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Behavioral Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program.

“We totally believe in the healing power,” she said.

Montalván, who said he leans on Tuesday to help him with PTSD, talked about the need for public funding, education for business owners and possibly even a licensing requirement for service dogs. He shared some of his personal story that was turned into the award-winning memoir “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.”

The book, co-written by author Bret Witter, has detractors, including several men who served with Montalván and allege that some details were exaggerated. Montalván said the book is based on his own recollections, not theirs, and that his injuries were confirmed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and others, according to a story by The Associated Press.

A feature film is being developed based on the book, and a separate documentary is scheduled to be released next summer. In addition, Montalván has written a children’s book based on his life with Tuesday that’s scheduled to come out in May.

When he returned from Iraq — where he earned the Combat Action Badge, two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, among other awards — Montalván said he isolated himself from friends, family and society. He drank a liter of rum a day. He had flashbacks of violence, and high levels of anxiety.

“PTSD wreaks havoc on a person’s ability to trust, which is why so many veterans are hidden,” he said.

But Tuesday gave him assistance and a sense of purpose and helped lead him to a path of recovery, he said.

“He is, he was, he has been an instrumental part of my ability to trust again,” Montalván said.

Sgt. Andres Perez, 34, of Lacey has a PTSD service dog and said he relates to Montalván’s experience.

The combat medic served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

“The wife saw a drastic change,” said Perez, who now is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and attended the Friday conference with his dog, Smoke, and his wife, Carrin. “And we just needed a four-legged buddy to help us out.”

Smoke, a black Lab who was trained by Olympia-based Cascade Service Dogs, helps remind Perez to take medication and be more comfortable in social settings, among other skills. The two have worked together for about four months, and Perez said he’s already noticed changes.

“He gives me that barrier of protection,” Perez said. “He’s always got my back.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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