War veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder after surviving the horrors of combat no longer have to worry about taking their service dogs with them now that they are stateside.On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry — surrounded by veterans and a service dog named Boots — signed into law a bill sponsored by state Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio. The new law expands the definition of a service dog as one that helps not only those who are blind or physically challenged, but also those diagnosed with PTSD.Menendez authored the legislation to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who need a service dog to help them manage their PTSD. It ensures that the veterans and their canine companions are allowed in public places such as stores, restaurants and other businesses.The penalties include a $300 fine and community service for those who discriminate against a disabled person by denying access or asking questions other than what the dog is trained to do. The law also will penalize those who falsely claim that they have a disability.“For veterans suffering from PTSD, a service animal can be a strong part of their recovery and a comforting presence in the midst of what can feel like chaotic and stressful situations,” Perry said. “This bill is a smart way for us to give back and help any Texan, including our veterans, lead a healthy, productive life.”A 3-year-old rat terrier named Boots joined Perry for the ceremonial signing at a VFW hall in San Antonio. Boots belongs to veteran Adan Gallegos, who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.Menendez said he is pleased that the governor recognized the importance of helping wounded warriors“This bill is an important step in helping the growing number of disabled veterans, as well as others, who depend on service dogs in their daily lives, to have the same right of access to businesses and other public places that all citizens enjoy,” Menendez said.Lori Stevens, founder of Patriot Paws, a Rockwall-based group that trains service dogs for veterans with disabilities, said she welcomes the law, which takes effect Sept. 1.She said veterans are often turned away from restaurants and other businesses because employees and owners don’t recognized that they are disabled.“I tell my veterans that they will be denied access at least once,” Stevens said. “It is humiliating for our veterans. Unless the dog has done something [like misbehave] and the person is asked to leave, the dog should be allowed.”Although Stevens supports Menendez’s legislation, she cautioned that anyone needing a service dog should use an accredited organization that trains the dogs to handle specific tasks.She cautioned against scams that promise to train a puppy in 12 weeks or to provide certification for a pet.Dogs trained at Patriot Paws are free for the veterans, although it costs the group from $20,000 to $30,000 to train and maintain an animal.Each dog’s training is customized to fit a veteran’s specific needs. Dogs can be trained, for example, to open a refrigerator and carry a drink to an owner. They are also taught to sense when their owners are feeling stress by picking up on chemical changes in their bodies.Earlier this year, the agency said that it had placed 50 dogs with former service members and that 57 additional veterans were on a waiting list. This report includes material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz