Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is Mik Milem. Mik is the executive director of the nonprofit Soldiers Best Friend located here in Arizona. And we’ll be talking about Soldier’s Best Friend and the great work that they do for our veterans in just a minute.
But first, uh, welcome to the show, Mik. I’m really glad to have you here.
Mik Milem: Thank you so much, Scott, for having me. I appreciate it.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, you bet. Um, for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you, your background and who you are, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mik Milem: Sure. Um, I mean, I don’t think it’s anything all that special.
Um, but yeah, I’ve lived here in Arizona, in the Valley, uh, for 24 years now, um, moved here in 1999, um, actually to be the administrator of a school. And, uh, then I, uh, was, from there I moved on to become the Dean of Students at Grand Canyon University, which is, um, uh, private school here in the valley. Um, and then, um, [00:01:00] from there I went into the nonprofit world and I’ve been in the nonprofit world really basically for most of my career then.
Um, and, uh, yeah, I was, I’ve been with Soldiers Best Friend now for 18 months. This organization is one of the greatest organizations I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of and to work
Scott DeLuzio: with. That’s great. And it seems like such a great organization too. And we’ll, we’ll get more into, uh, what Soldiers Best Friend is all about and its mission and how it helps veterans and even the local communities.
But, um, you know, you’ve, you’ve worked in nonprofits for, uh, for quite a while now. Um, what about nonprofits draws you to them? Uh, it seems like, like that, that’s kind of where your calling is. What, what, Brought you to, uh, working in nonprofits.
Mik Milem: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s because they are mission driven and, um, you know, if you’re going to walk this planet, you might as well have a purpose behind it, right?
Um, you might as well have a reason for, uh, for walking. [00:02:00] And, uh, to me, it’s all gotta be about connecting humans with humans, um, and helping people along the way. So, um, I’ve kind of just was born and raised with that. I come from a family of people that have always been really involved in nonprofits and in helping others.
Um, and so it just kind of was a natural flow for me to do that. Um, I did spend a number of years as well, um, as a pastor. Um, and, and so, you know, that was part of that as well. Um, but my real drive is because I just believe that, um. We ought to be helping each other, um, along the way. Um, and so, and again, working with Soulja’s best friend has given me the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had to do that.
Scott DeLuzio: that’s great. And having someone who is so dedicated to service and helping other people and making a positive impact in, uh, not just their, their local community, but. all over the place, um, is a great asset to have. So I’m sure Soldier’s Best Friend is happy to have you on board now. I know it’s been just a short while now here that you’ve, you’ve been on board, but [00:03:00] I’m, I’m pretty sure that they’re glad to have you aboard.
So I hope so. Yeah. Well, you’re still here. So, you know, that’s a good sign, I think. Well, we’re going to. Talk a little bit more about Soldiers Best Friend and its mission and, and how it’s helping the veteran and local community here, uh, in Arizona. But, um, we’re going to cut to a quick commercial break here.
So stay tuned. Everybody, welcome back to Drive On. Um, we are talking here today with Mik Milem, Milem, sorry. Um, and uh, we’re talking about his, uh, the non profit that he works for, uh, Soldiers Best Friend. Uh, Mik, um, tell us a little bit about Soldier’s best friend and its mission and, and really what it does for the veteran community.
Mik Milem: Sure, absolutely. Um, in a nutshell, soldier’s best friend exists, um, to provide US military veterans who are, um, living with P T SS D or a traumatic brain injury. um, [00:04:00] by providing them a service dog. Those dogs, um, are usually rescued from a local shelter, um, and then paired together with that veteran. They train together for, um, six to nine months until that dog reaches the qualifications of a service dog.
That’s in a nutshell what Soldier’s Best Friend does. The impact that it has on veterans lives and the impact that it has in this community, um, is far reaching, um, and really powerful. Um, I get the privilege every single day of… First of all, being around dogs. So how could you have a bad day when there’s wagging tails around you?
Right? So that’s always great. Um, but more importantly than that, I get to see every single day veterans lives that are transformed. Veterans who have come into the program, um, most of the time, um, at a very low point with their PTSD struggle, um, being places of recluse, being on hypervigilance, having high anxiety, um, oftentimes, um, strong suicidal ideations, um, but I get to watch that [00:05:00] transformation take place as they begin to understand that, um, A dog can truly help them to live out in public again.
I’m going to be comfortable and confident to do that because that dog becomes a battle buddy for them. Somebody who’s going to be there for them, watching their back, being their six, if you will.
Scott DeLuzio: You know, I’ve not personally had experience with a service dog or therapy dogs myself, but, um, been around dogs for a good part of my life.
Uh, you know, we have dogs. at home now. And you’re right. You, I can’t have a bad day with a dog around, like, you know, the wagging tails, the, um, you know, the, they go and grab a toy and they want to play. And, you know, how, how can you say no, right. To that type of thing. And how can you have a bad day when, um, when you have that dog around and, um, you know, there’s just such healing power to having a dog, uh, just being present.
Um, I, I think, um, you know, versus, uh, not having anything or [00:06:00] anyone around, you know, you’re, you’re talking about how sometimes people are, uh, reclusive and they kind of, um, you know, isolate themselves from the rest of the world, but at a bare minimum, if there’s a dog around, like you’re not alone, you have someone or something, you know, someone there to, um, just be with and, a reason to wake up in the morning.
You got to go walk the dog or you have to, you know, whatever it is, there’s, there’s a reason to, to get up and keep moving and, and try to, um, you know, make a positive change in, in your life,
Mik Milem: right? Absolutely. And you touched on a couple of things that I think are really important there, Scott. Um, first of all, that there becomes purpose again for life, right?
Um, When you, when you are deployed, um, and when you’re in the military, there’s somebody telling you what to do, what to wear, how to do it all along the way, every single day, right? You get out of the military and suddenly that’s not there anymore. So, so you have to try and readjust to that. You add [00:07:00] to that, um, the comradery that there is within the military.
And then suddenly, um, that’s gone as well. Then if you’ve been deployed and you’ve seen, um, any kind of atrocities or, um, you know, horrific things, I’ve been involved in, um, in, in conflict, um, in combat, then you come back with the struggle of what do I do with having had to participate or do things that, um, I was taught were wrong.
I mean, we live in a culture that tells us I shall not kill, right? Um, and then you, you come back and you wonder, but. When I was in Iraq or I was in Afghanistan, um, there was a child in front of my Humvee, um, that was, had a bomb strapped to them and, and I was forced to have to shoot that child, right? And that’s just something that you, the, a human’s not meant to live with, right?
So you come back with all of that and, um, and, and And so then you, you wonder, how do I make it? Well, now we’ve given you purpose again, because you’ve got a dog that you’ve got to train every single day for one hour. You’ve got a dog that needs to be walked, that needs [00:08:00] to be fed, that needs to be taken care of.
So all of that gives purpose again. And the second thing you touched on, I think that’s really important about our program is that A service dog is more than just the wagging tail that greets you when you get home, right? A service dog is actually trained to do specific tasks that help you with your symptoms of PTSD or TBI.
Um, so when a veteran’s anxiety gets high, we can train that dog to pick up on this, on this. on the either the twitching of a hand or pick up on, uh, you know, the, the fingers going like this or pick up on sweat that comes out or pick up on the smell of cortisol that’s released when you’re, when you’re stressed out, we can train that dog then to respond to that veteran to redirect them, right?
Come up and give them pressure therapy, jump up on them. And what that does is it causes the veteran to stop thinking about whatever the anxiety is causing the anxiety and to now think about this dog and it being there. And so, um, it’s, it’s also critically, so, so incredibly powerful to see that [00:09:00] happen in a veteran’s life.
Um, if I could tell a story, um, I, I recently, um, was able to, to watch and observe, um, a veteran that was in training and, um, it was their very first public outing with their trainer and they were out walking the streets and a car backfired and immediately that veteran Um, went into a backflash of, of thinking that somebody was shooting at them or something was going on and that veteran became paralyzed at that moment.
The dog… And he reacted to the veteran by going up and jumping up on that veteran and trying to calm the veteran. The veteran at first didn’t know what was going on, right? Because they’re they’re new in the program. They’re just starting their training. This is our first public outing with their dog and the trainer was good enough to know to stop that veteran say where are you right now?
And he says, I’m back in Afghanistan. And she said, Where’s your dog? He’s right here. Focus on that [00:10:00] dog. That dog is bringing you back to reality. And she walked away. And let that dog do its job to bring that veteran back to reality and back to, I’m okay. There’s nobody going to harm me now. Um, it was powerful to see happen.
And this is why Soldier’s Best Friend is so important for veterans because they can live life again without that kind of fear and anxiety, or at least having a tool that helps them when that fear and anxiety comes, um, to get them.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s such a powerful thing as, as you were talking about that, like I, I’ve experienced similar things to what you just described.
And, and like, I felt that like those emotions coming back and like. How powerful that would be to just be able to like snap back into the here and now the reality and be like, okay, I’m, I’m safe. I’m here. It’s just, you know, someone’s crappy car that, you know, backfired or whatever. It’s, it’s not someone shooting at me.
It’s not a, you know, any, anything that’s a problem. It’s. [00:11:00] I’m safe here, you know, um, and that’s a really powerful thing. Um, now one other aspect of Soldiers Best Friend, which I thought was pretty amazing is, um, that you guys use rescue dogs from local shelters. Um, can you talk about that, uh, you know, kind of how that approach, how it, not only it helps the veterans, um, you know, by being able to access these, uh, these dogs, but also address the issue, uh, that.
that we have here of pet overpopulation, right? Yeah,
Mik Milem: absolutely. I think this is, again, one of the greatest things about Soldier’s Best Friend. Our tagline is touching two lives at once, right? Because we’re not just touching a veteran’s life, but we’re also rescuing a dog. Um, so the way that works is that a veteran, it makes application in the program and then they tell us kind of what kind of dog they’re looking for.
Large, medium, um, you know, long hair, short hair, male, female. Um, they kind of give us some parameters of what they’re looking for, but we also [00:12:00] ask them, how active are you? You know, are you out hiking? Are you, um, are you on the go a lot? Um, do you have, you know, or are you more sedentary and at home a lot? Um, do you need help with getting up off a seat or because of your TBI?
Or you, do you have to struggle with balance? Because all those things play into what kind of dog we want to find for that veteran. And then we have an adoption specialist who works with a number of rescues across the state of Arizona, um, and goes looking for dogs, um, for these veterans based on those criteria.
Um, the dogs, once we rescue them, they go to foster care for about three to four weeks, and that’s so that they can adjust to home life again, because we don’t know the background of these dogs, right? What they’ve been through. They may have been beaten or abandoned or mistreated in some way, shape or form.
We don’t know. So to get them in a home life. Settled, feeling comfortable and loved again is important if bad behavior is going to come out. We’d rather it come out when it’s with the foster than it would with being with the veteran who’s already [00:13:00] struggling with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury. So, um, yeah, then we do a meet and greet with the veteran.
And as we always say, the dog chooses the veteran every single time. So, um, You know, it’s just really obvious that when the dog goes to that veteran, that’s the match. If the dog is skittish or not so sure about the veteran, it’s just not the match yet. And we’ll find the right dog.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s just a great approach to, like you said, going to the foster first.
Um, because yeah, you don’t know the background of these dogs. You want to make sure that if there are issues with the dog, that it, isn’t coming out with the veteran who’s now dealing with their own issues. And now also a dog with, with issues. And that’s just going to make life even harder maybe. Um, and so yeah, figuring that out.
And then, um, and I like how you said that, how the dog chooses the veteran, not, not the other way around because, um, [00:14:00] You know, I, I’ve always said, if, uh, if my dog doesn’t like you, then I probably have questions about you. And so, like, you know, so the dogs are, are, and it’s not to, to, you know, knock on any of these veterans or anything like that, but it’s, you know, the dogs are very intuitive and they, they’ll, they’ll know if this is going to be a good fit, probably for them.
So, um, so it’s a good, good way to get them into, you know, a good situation right off the bat. So I bet you’re not, um, going back and forth and having a, having a. Pull them from one, one home to another and all that kind of stuff. It’s good to just get them in at the right place at the right time, right?
Mik Milem: Absolutely. And I wish it was a perfect science and it’s not. You know, there are still times when a dog gets placed with a veteran and, um, bad behavior shows up, you know, the dog becomes reactive or aggressive or any number of things and we have to remove the dog and adopt it out, um, and get the veteran a different dog.
So that happens from time to time. [00:15:00] Luckily, that’s rare. It’s not the, it’s not the norm, but it does happen. Sure.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Well, I want to talk a little bit more about the, uh, the training program and, and how the, the whole program overall works, uh, in just a minute, but we’re going to cut to another quick commercial break here.
So stay tuned, everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. Um, Mik, we’ve been talking about the, the program here, uh, with Soldiers Best Friend and how you are pairing, uh, veterans with PTSD or TBIs, uh, with, uh, service dogs who, um, You source from local shelters, um, dogs that may otherwise have not had a future. Um, they, you know, with a pet population that, that might be overpopulated in some of these places, they unfortunately sometimes are put down.
And so you’re giving them a second shot at life, uh, as well. Now this program, since these dogs are not taken basically from birth and you [00:16:00] know, this is not their, their destiny. They, they were basically retrieved out of these, uh, these local shelters. Um, there’s a training program to get these, these dogs and the veterans kind of up to speed with how to work with each other.
Um, could you describe the training program? Like, you know, how, how long does it take to complete? I think you might’ve mentioned that earlier, but if you could touch on that again and, um, you know, what, what the program overall looks like?
Mik Milem: Sure, no problem at all. The, um…. The program in its totality is, when all things work out perfectly, is six to nine months in length.
Um, sometimes that can take a little longer depending on a dog or depending on the veteran. Um, but we like to say it’s six to nine months. I think our last graduating class, it was a ten month average that took them to get through the program. So, the program begins with, um, once the veteran has been matched with a dog, they begin training with a professional dog trainer twice a week.
Um, once a week is [00:17:00] one on one, and then the second time a week is in what we call a group class, which would just be two or three veterans that come together. That helps to socialize the dog. Um, it also helps to build comradery with the veterans as well. So no, they’re not alone, uh, going to the program. Um, they meet, like I said, with that dog trainer twice a week, and then they are expected five days a week to train for an hour every day their dog.
They have log sheets they have to keep. In order to graduate from the program, they, they have to have, um, train for 180 hours. Um, so the first thing they do the first three months or so is working towards what we call the canine good citizen test, which is the test that’s recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Um, if you’re doing basic obedience with your dog, you would take the same test through PetSmart or Petco or any other number of places that do dog obedience for, for dogs. Um, it’s meant to have the foundation of basic commands down for the dog. Things like sit, lay, Stay, Heal, um, uh, Place, all those sorts of basic commands that you want your dog [00:18:00] to do, a good solid foundation, and we do that, um, indoors at our facility, our training facility in the West Valley of Phoenix, um, or we have facilities in Sierra Vista, Tucson, East Valley, we also have trainers in, well, we have a facility in Yuma as well, we have trainers also in Prescott and Flagstaff, um, who don’t have an indoor facility that they train out of, but Um, they, they train in the park, but we do that indoor so that the veteran is, um, in some ways, um, isolated so that they can really focus on the dog and focus on training without the fear of thinking people are watching them or without even the fear of there being strangers around them, like out in public.
Once the dog has passed the canine good citizen test. Um, we begin public outings and we start those out first with, um, easy public outings like going to a Home Depot or, um, a PetSmart, places that are pet friendly, um, and that a lot of veterans may be used to going to anyways. [00:19:00] Um, there are a series of four public access tests that we do along the way, um, just to make sure that the veteran is on.
is on task and that the dog is on task as well. Um, once we’ve gotten through that first public access test, it is a little bit easier. We start moving on to busier places like, um, a Target or a restaurant. Um, and then from there, we moved to a site, like an outdoor mall, um, where we, where it’s a little more busy and there’s also more distractions.
And then we will move to an indoor mall. Um, where there’s lots of distractions and lots of noises that are taking place, um, for that along the way. Again, like I said, we are testing the veteran and the dog and these public access tests to make sure that the dog is proceeding through the program just fine.
And if the veteran is comfortable going through the program again, oftentimes what can happen is a veteran can show up for training at, you know, a Lowe’s and they can be inside. And I’m telling you, 10, 15 minutes into the [00:20:00] training. Suddenly it’s like, I got to get out of here. I can’t handle it. And our trainers, they aren’t just dog trainers.
We call them veteran trainers because they’ve been trained to understand PTSD and understand what a traumatic brain injury is all about and how that affects our veterans. And so they will say, okay, let’s get out of here. And they’ll go outside and say, let’s just finish training outside. And then they will also then say, let’s see what your dog does.
To help you in these situations. What can the dog do to help you? Um, and that’s what we begin then training for tasks as well. So, every veteran to graduate has to also, um, complete at least three tasks that their dog does specific to their symptoms. So, let me explain some of those tasks for you, what they could be.
Things like pressure therapy, which is what I always call kind of a dog hug, but it’s the dog redirecting a veteran when they’re having high anxiety, and so the dog will either nudge their hand or jump up on them, or if they’re seated, get in their lap in [00:21:00] order to get the attention of that veteran. off of whatever’s causing the anxiety back onto them.
Um, we, we, we train the dog to do what we call provide space for the veteran. Um, so that veterans that are a little bit more anxious about being out in a crowd, we can train the dog to circle around the veteran to provide them space and even use their hips to push people out of the way, um, gently and nicely.
Um, or when they’re at the grocery store. If the veteran is getting something up off the shelf, we can train the dog to be behind the veteran so nobody comes up behind them, um, and can get close to them. So we, we do that to provide space for the veteran. We can train the dog to do what we call six, which is simply watch the veterans back.
So now the veteran no longer has to go to a restaurant and always sit facing the door. The dog can watch the door for them, right? The dog can. and alert them if somebody’s coming up behind them so that there’s no startle to that. We can train the dog to awaken them from nightmares. Uh, we can train the dog to go search for things for them [00:22:00] if they’ve lost them.
We train the dog to be balanced for the veteran who has a TBI and has a hard time. Um, we can train the dog to retrieve things for them, uh, pick up cell phones, keys, um, that are dropped when a veteran has difficulty, um, doing those sorts of tasks. So, um, there’s all kinds of tasks that we can train that dog to do specific to the symptoms of the veteran.
And that’s done with the trainer and the veteran, um, collaborating together as to what’s best for that veteran. Like I said, they have to have three tasks that the dog does before they graduate, but most veterans have done four or five tasks, um, before they graduate. The last public outing we do, sorry.
The last public outing that we do with the veterans is we do a trip to Sky Harbor Airport on a Saturday night. Terminal 4. So Terminal 4 is the busiest of the terminals and Saturday night’s the busiest of the nights. So it’s really like high stress for the veteran, but the best time and we don’t do that until the veteran and the dog are ready and [00:23:00] prepared.
And here’s what I mean. I’ve been to many of these outings at the airport and they, we have a partnership with Southwest Airlines who meet us there, take us through ticketing, take us through TSA, Um, all the veterans have to board a decommissioned plane, um, a Southwest plane. They have to get their dog under the seat as if they’re flying.
Then they have to get into the lavatory and get that dog in the lavatory with them. Imagine if you’ve got a 70, 80 pound dog, it’s got to get in that lavatory with you. It’s quite the task, but, um, it’s, it’s important because if a veteran’s flying by themselves, they can’t just leave their dog, right? Um, so they go through all that, then they go through baggage claim.
At the beginning of the night, when those veterans show up, there is anxiety ridden faces all over the place, um, because there are, it just. Flying in that kind of chaos and that kind of crowd is just really difficult. But we walk with them through it. The dog is there to do the tasks for them. And at the end of [00:24:00] the evening, we’re able to say, you did it.
You made it through the airport. And that’s the last thing they do before graduation.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s about as stressful as it gets is going through that, that, that maze of, you know, people through the TSA line and the ticketing and, and, uh, you know, waiting in line to get onto the plane and, uh, being in that enclosed space as well, uh, especially the, the lavatory on the plane.
Um, I, I know, I, I can’t imagine how you fit a dog and a person in, in the, the small space because those things are tiny. Um, but. But, you know, they do it, and, and at the end, I got to imagine they’re feeling very accomplished, like they, and confident, I should
Mik Milem: say. Absolutely, and I think that’s the key, that we were putting confidence back in that veteran, uh, to know, I don’t, I don’t have to be afraid to go out in public anymore.
Um, I can now go out and do things, you know, I I’m thinking back my, I’d been with the organization maybe [00:25:00] about three months and one of our veterans, um, went with his kids, um, to, uh, Disneyland. And he said, um, he had graduated from the program just three months before. And he said a year ago, there is no way I would have ever gone to Disneyland, but I can do it now.
He had a great trip with his kids. Um, but again, imagine feeling like you could never do that with your kids. Um, but now you’re able to write because you’ve got, he had a big giant white German shepherd that could do good crowd control for him. So yeah. Sure. Yeah.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, it was effective. Um, now I want to talk a little bit, uh, just quickly here about, uh, the, the financial cost of the training, of the dog, of, you know, anything like that.
Is there any cost to the veteran to go through this training to receive the dog from Soldier’s Best Friend?
Mik Milem: Yeah, absolutely no cost whatsoever to the veteran except for need to buy dog food for their dog. We provide Collar, Leashes, Dishes, Kennels, [00:26:00] um, Bedding, um, We provide even the training treats that they need, um, while they’re in training.
But, um, they just need to provide the food. And then we also, there’s no charge to the veteran for all of the training. If you were to go out into the world to get a service dog, it’s going to cost you anywhere between 15, 000. We’re able to do it at a cost of about 7, 500 per veteran, um, but again, at zero cost to the veteran whatsoever, thanks to generous donors and, and grants that we receive.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s amazing too, because I know that is, that financial cost is a reason why many people avoid going the service dog route, even though it’s, it could be extremely effective. Um, but it’s just. So incredibly expensive. Like you said, it could be up to 30, 000 and, you know, I don’t know about a lot of people, but I don’t have that just laying around to just go, you know, invest in, uh, the training and the dog and, and everything else that goes along with it.
[00:27:00] Um, I’d love to, to. You know, be able to, uh, to do that, right? You know, people might, might love to be able to have that kind of dog, but to invest that kind of money is just, it’s just a lot of money. So, um, you know, being able to have this service available where, um, there is no cost to the veteran. Um, the, the dogs are provided to them and, and it’s really just, you know, picking up the food for the dog and, and feeding the dog the way you would with any pet that you might own is you’re going to have to feed the dog at some point, right?
So, um, you know, that, that to me is, is kind of like a, well, that’s a small cost to pay for something this beneficial, right? Absolutely.
Mik Milem: And I would say with that, even all veterinary bills are paid for by us while they’re in training. And then after they graduate, we have partnerships with a number of veterinarians across the state of Arizona that provide 20% discount to the veterans who have a dog from Soldiers Best Friend.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s amazing too, because I know having two dogs myself, the [00:28:00] veterinary bills can be pretty expensive, especially if there’s a medical issue that is outside of the regular routine. Checkups and shots and that type of stuff. It could be rather expensive. So knowing that you have that benefit in your back pocket as well is, is definitely a huge benefit as well.
Um, speaking of finances, we’re going to take a quick break here to pay the bills, but when we get back, we’ll talk a little bit more about, um, you know, Soldier’s Best Friend and some of the benefits of it. So stay tuned. Everybody welcome back to Drive On. Um, we’ve been talking, uh, today about, Soldier’s Best Friend, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to providing service dogs to veterans with PTSD and TBI, uh, injuries.
And, um, to me, it just seems like it’s a perfect fit. I don’t know why this. isn’t something that’s much more widespread. I mean, the veterans, um, you know, I know a lot of veterans who own dogs themselves. A lot [00:29:00] of veterans are very comfortable around dogs. Um, dogs are a super powerful tool to, um, help out, uh, people with, uh, these conditions, PTSD, TBIs, and even other conditions too, but I know those are the two main ones that you guys focus on.
Um, but for people in the audience who might be listening here and they might be on the fence, about getting a service dog or, you know, a companion dog or something along those lines. Could you talk about the differences between the two, a service dog versus a companion dog and, uh, and what those differences are and maybe the effectiveness of them in helping veterans with, with PTSD or TBIs?
Mik Milem: Yeah, no problem at all. Um, the, really the, the biggest difference, a service dog by the American Disability Act, um, is permitted to go anywhere in public Um, that that veteran goes. Other than… Perhaps some federal buildings that don’t allow a service dog to go [00:30:00] into them, or if you’re in some sort of medical procedure where there has to be sterilization that’s, that’s, that’s taken place.
So surgery or outpatient, things like that. But a service dog is permitted to go anywhere. That that, um, that the veteran is permitted to go and, um, and, uh, a therapeutic companion dog or an emotional support dog is a little bit different than that. They are not permitted to just go anywhere. They’re allowed to go anywhere that’s dog friendly or where dogs are permitted.
Um, but they are not permitted to go everywhere that a service dog is permitted to go. And the difference between them is that, um, that service dog has been trained to perform specific tasks to help with the disability of the TBI. or the PTSD. Um, and a therapeutic companion dog really has just learned to give, um, support to that veteran, um, in an emotional way.
Um, and so they help to ground them and help to, um, provide them perhaps distraction from anxiety that happens, but, um, they [00:31:00] don’t have the specific tasks that, um, have been trained to them. So.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I wanted to bring up that difference because. I know I’ve, I’ve seen people with dogs that, um, may or may not be trained, uh, for, you know, those specific tasks, um, but they bring them along as if they’re the service dog, uh, that are trained in those tasks and they bring them into all sorts of places, whether it’s restaurants or, you know, stores and things like that.
And, um, you know, I just wanted to. Help to clarify the difference between the two, um, because, you know, just because you have a dog and, you know, I love my dogs, uh, I’m sure other people love their dogs too, and they want to take them all over the place, but, you know, it’s not always the right thing to do, um, you know, especially if they’re, they don’t have that training, uh, and may not be, um, you know, the best thing to do to bring them out in public like that.
So, um, you know, so I, I wanted to kind of clarify the difference there. Um, now as far as the [00:32:00] effectiveness with, helping with PTSD and TBIs, um, between the two, the service dog, obviously they’re, they’re trained for specific tasks, but, um, is there effectiveness with, uh, the therapeutic companion dogs as well?
Um, with. Kind of working with some of these conditions or, or is it more just for kind of a, a comfort kind of thing?
Mik Milem: Um, no, there is effectiveness for it for sure. The, um, and again, we, we have veterans that graduate with therapeutic as a therapeutic companion dog. And I will tell you the most of the time when that takes place.
Um, it’s just because, The training has been just, it’s been too difficult for the veteran. Um, and so, um, a lot, I’m going to tell you, the program’s not easy, right? Just up front, it’s just not easy. It’s stressful to train a dog. You, you said you have two dogs, Scott. I’ve got two as well. Um, my one is a 16 year old Sheltie Mix and she lays around and is quiet [00:33:00] and is good.
But I’ve got a two year old cat or dog husky mix that was a flunk out from the program. And she is, um, she has got ADHD. I tell you, she obeyed commands for about five seconds. And then she’s like, please let me go. Please let me go. I mean, she’s just training a dog’s heart. It’s, it’s difficult. So if you’re already struggling with anxiety and um, you, your dog is, is difficult to, to train, um, then sometimes a veteran would just say, I can’t, I can’t do the whole program.
So they’ll stop at therapeutic companion dog, but here’s the benefit they have. First of all, they have a well trained dog cause they will have, they will have to be a therapeutic companion dog. They have passed the canine good citizen test. So the dog is trained and well obeyed, an obedient dog. But then they’ve also done, they’ve begun doing public outings and so they know that they can take that dog out in public and be, and the dog can do some things for them.
And here’s the thing, the dogs intuitively already have started to pick up on how to help that veteran because dogs are [00:34:00] still in tuned to humans, right? So when that veteran’s stressed out, that dog knows that and knows what to do to alleviate that. So, um, there’s a lot of benefits still to that because of the bond that has taken place between the veteran and the dog.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, and To the point that you just mentioned about how the dogs are very in tune to the humans that they’re, they’re around on a regular basis. Um, it just a quick story. My wife, about five years ago, um, she started having seizures for the first time ever. She was not epileptic before that. She just started having seizures.
And, um, we didn’t know, you know, what was, what was going on with her or whatever. But, um, after she got back from the hospital and, and she was, you know, kind of recovering a little bit, she, Um, started, she was just kind of hanging out at home and our dog came up to her and just started kind of like, kind of scratching, kind of pawing at her, her leg.
And within 30 seconds or so, maybe a minute, um, she started having another seizure. And so it was [00:35:00] that dog who had lived with her, uh, for, at that point, probably seven, no, eight, eight or nine years or so at that point. Um, Really got to know her and you know, what her the smells and how her body is and all that kind of stuff and notice Hey, there’s something wrong.
I’m gonna come and tell you about it. And this there’s no training involved There’s just like that intuitive. She went up and and just kind of like scratched at her at first We’re like, you know, this is kind of strange. She’s never done this before What is she doing? And then we kind of realized that oh, she’s trying to warn her that something’s something’s wrong.
Um, she probably didn’t know what was wrong. She just knew something was wrong. And so, um, you know, you’re, you’re absolutely right. The dogs have this incredible intuitive sense about, about them when it comes to, uh, when it comes to the humans that they’re living with. Um, and so, so yeah, you’re right.
You’ll, you’ll get that benefit. Um, even though you maybe didn’t go through the full training to get to the [00:36:00] service dog level, um, you may still get some of that benefit. Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, and it’s, it’s a good thing too, because, um, you know, just having the, the dog around, like we were saying earlier in this episode, just having the dog around.
It gives you that sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, and it may actually help to, you know, get you out of bed in the morning because you’ve got to go let the dog out, otherwise you’re going to have a mess to clean up in the house, right? Or you’ve got to take the dog for a walk and, you know, feed the dog and take care of the dog, and it gives you now a new sense of purpose and a sense of meaning, um, that maybe you wouldn’t have had before.
Um, and so it’s absolutely a, a, a great thing here. Um, now for the veterans who might be considering this option of going through the training, getting the service dog, do you have any advice for them in terms of preparing for what’s coming up through the training or, you know, getting their house ready or any of that kind of stuff?[00:37:00]
Mik Milem: Yeah, I mean, here’s what I would say is that, um, I would say to any veteran that’s considering or interested in the program to go to our website and fill out the, um, request an application form. It’s right on the homepage. Button is right there. Request an application. Um, and then you’ll get the application.
Here’s what we will do for that veteran. First of all, is, um, we will help prepare them. Uh, before a veteran begins, well, So, Once they’ve completed the application and they’ve gotten in the forms that go with that, which is a confirmation of diagnosis from a, you know, a mental health professional, uh, their DD 214, um, and then some letters of reference, um, we will do an interview with them.
And when we do that in home, so we can take a look at the house and see what, what’s there. Um, if there’s, things like Unfenced Yard or, um, things that look like they could be, um, difficult for a dog, then we would, we would let them know then, that those things would need to be taken care of, or those [00:38:00] issues need to be handled before.
Um, but once someone’s accepted into the program after the interview process, We provide them a four week course before they start training to prepare them for what the program is going to be like. So they do a husbandry course to learn how to take care of a dog and, and, um, and what, what to look for in caring for the dog.
Um, they will also then learn the first five commands and how those work. Um, with the, with the, we’re going to teach them, um, we will bring in, uh, foster dogs for them to work with so that they know what it’s like to work with a dog that’s untrained before they actually start the program. Um, and then, um, because we want to prepare them and we also want them to understand that it’s not, it’s not easy because, um, because it’s not.
And the veteran needs to understand that as they start the program, because, um, if you think, well, hey, it’s just a dog, I certainly can make a dog obey me, right? Um, what happens is the anxiety gets the best of the veteran and they [00:39:00] find themselves really struggling. Um, and so we want to try and help alleviate a lot of that by helping them to understand.
It’s not easy, but we’re there for you. We’re going to walk with you through it. The trainer is always there for that veteran.
Scott DeLuzio: And that’s good, knowing that you’re going to have someone by your side who can help you, help guide you through, and you’re not just kind of thrown in the deep end, if you will, right?
It’s, someone’s there to help you. But, um, let’s say there’s a veteran who already has a dog at home and, um, they’re, They’re comfortable with that dog. They like the dog. They think this dog might be a good service. Can they bring their own dog or do they have to use a dog that’s provided by you
Mik Milem: guys? No, no.
We accept veterans dogs all the time. The dog has to pass the temperament test. We do a behavioral exam on the dog and a medical test. Um, and we’ll pay for those, but um, they, they’ve got, the medical test is simply to make sure their hips are going to be good. Um, larger breed dogs sometimes can have hip dysplasia and that.
It doesn’t make for a good service dog because it’s a [00:40:00] working dog, right? And it’s up and down a lot. And then behavioral. We want to make sure that dog we’re looking for dogs that are calm and confident, right? So you can, you can play with their ears and their paws and you can, you know, be all around them and they’re not going to be bothered by that, but they have some sort of drive to work as well, right?
That you can see that in them. Um, so. That’s what we’re looking for. Um, so yes, veterans bring their own dogs into the program all the time. Um, and, and, and it works. Um, there’s also veterans that have their own dog and it doesn’t work because that dog’s not prepared to be a, a service dog. And, and then we can, we can still work with that.
We can, we can either get them a dog if they’re willing to have a second dog in the home. Um, or, um, you know, we can have them rehome their dog and then get a dog. So there’s ways we can work with that. Yeah.
Scott DeLuzio: And are there any restrictions as far as like breed or, uh, age or any of that kind of stuff that, that goes into that as well?
Mik Milem: Sure, we want the dogs to be between 9 months old and 3 years old, [00:41:00] so we try not to take any dogs over 3 into the program and under 9 months. And then, um, yeah, there are some breeds that are restricted. We don’t take Rottweilers, um, we don’t take full bred pit bulls, um, Uh, yeah, I mean those are two briefs I can think off the top of my head that we don’t take, um, just because there can be aggression with those and I know there’s pit bull lovers out there who would say pit bulls have a bad, have been given a bad name and they’re not aggressive.
However, there’s a lot of, um, apartment complexes and, um, landlords that don’t allow pit bulls or Rottweilers in their complexes and we don’t want a veteran to have to go through. Um, really that kind of stress, um, of having a dog would not be allowed by some landlords. Um, and so we just don’t allow them into our program.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that, that makes sense. Um, you don’t want to set them up for failure when, when they go through all this hard work and this training and get the dog all trained up and then [00:42:00] they go and they have to move. To some place, and they, they try to move in and now they’re stuck. They can’t, they can’t move into the place that they wanna move into because of the type of dog that they have.
Um, you know, right, wrong, or indifferent. I’m not saying that, you know, anything against any type of dog. Um, I think all, all dogs are, are great. Um, you know, it’s just like all, all people, all people can be great, but there’s some jerks out there too. And so you might, you might get a jerk dog too. And, and, uh, you know, it, it’s, uh, um, you know, just an unfortunate, uh, situation that some people just, you know, You know, completely, uh, you know, keep those, those types of dogs out.
But, um, but it happens. So you don’t want to get people in the, uh, the wrong situation here. So, um, we’re going to cut to another quick commercial break here. Uh, so stay tuned, everybody. Welcome back to drive on, uh, Mik it’s been. An absolute pleasure speaking with you today. Um, anytime I get a chance to talk about dogs, I’m, I’m always in a little bit better mood after the conversation.
So, um, I want to give you the chance now to, uh, to tell people where they can go to get in touch with, with you guys and find out more about [00:43:00] Soldiers Best Friend, make a donation, volunteer, or even apply to get a dog of their own.
Mik Milem: Yeah, absolutely. So, um, SoldiersBestFriend. org. Right on the home page, uh, there is a, uh, a tab that says request an application.
And so if there’s a veteran out there who is interested in the program, you simply go there. Um, there’s a form that you fill out. Once that form, you hit submit the application. Um, and all the attachments that need to go with that application are sent directly to you. Um, you’ll then receive a phone call, um, within 24 hours from, um, someone from our staff to ask that if you got the application and then we’ll follow up again, um, in seven days to see whether or not you need help with filling out any of the applications.
So we’ll help walk you through that whole entire process. Um, of being able to do the application. Um, and we realize that some veterans may not have, uh, may not be real tech savvy. Um, and so they can always call the office at (623) [00:44:00] 218-6486 and we can either, um, complete the, um, submit an application, um, line for you, um, while you’re telling us the, the information or we can send you a physical copy to complete as well.
I mean, interesting enough, Scott. We have a lot of Vietnam veterans that have been entering into our program, um, as of late. Um, they’re in their 70s and they’ve come to realize that they have suppressed for all these years issues. Um, and, um, they’re finding that a service dog is what they need. Um, and so it’s been a real pleasure to see so many Vietnam veterans coming into the program.
So, um, and they aren’t always the most tech savvy. So, um, we’re able to get them the physical form of the, of the application as well. So,
Scott DeLuzio: well, that, that’s great too, because those guys, um, you know, when they came back, they were, they were treated so poorly. Um, you know. A lot of them maybe were, you know, married when they came home or shortly thereafter they got, got married and, you know, as people get, [00:45:00] get older on in, in life that, you know, their spouse may have passed away and now they find themselves alone at home, alone with their thoughts and the demons in their head and, you know, now might be that perfect time for them to, uh, to get that dog, to, to help them, uh, kind of coping with that, where they may have had some other distractions in their life that might’ve, you know, might have helped them get through the last, uh, you know, however many years that they’ve been dealing with this.
So, so that’s a great thing. I think that, that you guys are working with veterans of all eras, not just, you know, the, the more recent veterans. Um, at this point in the show, I like to try to add some humor. Um, Typically, it’s either telling a joke or watching a funny video of people doing stupid things or whatever.
But in honor of our guest today and the service dogs, uh, I have a joke that’s related to service dogs. Uh, that, that might be, uh, you know, something to put a little smile on some people’s faces. So, um, so here it is. So. Why don’t blind people go skydiving more often? [00:46:00] Because it scares the hell out of the dog.
Mik Milem: Uh,
Scott DeLuzio: that’s bad, Scott. So, anyways, um, Nick, it’s, it’s, again, it’s been a pleasure, uh, chatting with you. Um, I, I, I think the work that you guys are doing is, uh, absolutely amazing. Um, You know, working with these veterans, working with the dogs, uh, and, and the shelters to help kind of reduce their population, um, but also, uh, put those dogs to work, uh, in an environment where they’re, they’re helping out these veterans is, is absolutely amazing.
So, uh, thank you again for everything that you’re doing and thank you for taking the time to join me.
Mik Milem: Sure thing, Scott. I appreciate the opportunity to share about what we’re doing and, um, thank you so much.