Dogs have always been man’s best friend. But for army veteran Dallas Leveroni, his dog, Shiva, does more: She’s a registered and trained service dog, meant to help Leveroni with a list of recurrent problems, from night terrors to asthma attacks.
But in Santa Barbara, according to Leveroni, it is next to impossible for other men and women who have served in the military to get a service animal.
Service dogs are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, whether that be physical, such as mobility or sensory issues, or psychological, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies have shown that they can be extremely helpful for veterans.
“Shiva is here to help me with my day-to-day, but also helps me break out of some of the structure that I learned in the military and calms my mind with the dog stuff, which is therapeutic,” said Leveroni, who was a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. “She also helps me with night terrors; she’s trained to wake me up in the middle of the night. And if she sees me getting stressed out, raising my voice, she’ll come up and lick my hand or show pressure and give me those eyes that’s like, ‘Hey, it’s okay. I’m here.’”
But Santa Barbara is lacking a facility that can place trained service dogs with vets for little to no cost. The county’s treasurer, Harry Hagen, whose department oversees veteran services, confirmed there is no specific program he knows of here. “There’s a place in Pismo that costs about $17,000, and they do a majority of the training there,” said Leveroni. “They charge about $2,000 for their dogs, which are purebred show dogs. That’s not for me. They just need a healthy dog that will do the job.”
Leveroni was paired with Shiva at a facility in Temecula that, in his opinion, does a fantastic job pairing vets with the dogs that they need. Unfortunately, when he moved from Temecula to Santa Barbara, the organization could no longer help him because they only serve veterans in the nearby area. There are a number of nonprofit organizations linking vets to pets, such as K9s for Warriors, Patriot Paws, and Top Dogg K9 Foundation, but they are also mostly regional in nature.
“Service dogs show you that someone else is there. You could be in a fight with your wife, or stuff could be going bad — that kind of stuff happens,” said Leveroni, “but [your dog] will always have your back. She’s your battle buddy for life.”
Clarification: The group K9s for Warriors states that its work extends to California. The nonprofit’s training for vets and pairing with dogs are both provided free of charge at its Camp K9 facility in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Applicants must pay for their way to Florida and home again, but otherwise the dog, training, and room and board are provided by sponsors and donations. The group has successfully paired 263 vets with service dogs, 17 of them from California. See k9sforwarriors.org for more.