Protest and a nudge from Canada’s top soldier have prompted officials at an Edmonton military base to back off a controversial policy restricting the movements of trauma-stricken soldiers who use service dogs.
In a matter that weighs the psychological needs of personnel with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder against the medical risk to those with serious allergies, officials at CFB Edmonton said Thursday they are intent on finding a middle-ground solution.
“The chain of command is absolutely willing to work with and accommodate reasonable requests and make it comfortable for everybody,” said Capt. Donna Riguidel, a base spokesperson.
The standing order that came down earlier this month at the base said the specially trained animals would no longer be allowed in the dining and kitchen areas, recreational areas such as swimming pools and arenas or personnel support areas.
The policy also required those with service dogs to give 24 hours’ notice of their planned movements and activities, said Sgt. Jeffrey Yetman, a veteran of wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan who has PTSD.
Yetman has relied on the support of Diego, a four-year-old service dog, since he received the animal from the Wounded Warriors charity in August 2014.
“In addition to limiting my freedom of movement, this severely threatens the quality of life of myself and my family,” Yetman, a married father of two, wrote in an angry volley on Facebook earlier this week that led to the policy review.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, was not involved in the decision to revise the base policy, an aide said Thursday. But when asked about the case in a CTV interview Wednesday he said he was inclined to take Yetman’s side and thought it possible to arrive at a “sensitive solution” to the complaint.
The policy was triggered by an incident last year in which someone with a service dog came into contact with another person with serious allergies to dogs, said Riguidel.
“They actually had to call an ambulance to get the person and treat them,” she said.
At the office where the incident occurred, there was an across-the-board ban on animals — one that would have applied only to the approximately three people who use service dogs. That ban was protested and eventually relaxed in the policy, which ordered those with service dogs to provide advance notice of their movements. The policy was drafted in September and came into force only this month, Riguidel said.
“We just wanted to avoid a situation similar to the one that happened, where nobody knew and this animal showed up and we had a terrible situation that could have turned out much worse.”
In his Facebook posting, Yetman said he was aware of an individual with allergies who works at the on-base dental clinic. He said that the individual, a receptionist, leaves his desk when he and Diego arrive for an appointment.
Yetman compared his plight to that of a blind person who is reliant on a seeing eye dog that can accompany him or her anywhere under provincial law.
But Riguidel said military personnel’s rights to be accompanied wherever they go by a service dogs is valid only if that animal is fully certified, meets provincial standards and passes a test. Her understanding is that Yetman’s dog does not have that provincial certification.
“At this moment in the province of Alberta those dogs are just considered — for lack of a better term — like a pet,” she said. “Obviously in the lives of these people they are so much more than that and we want to make sure that’s recognized.
“So it comes down to the fact that we can’t necessarily legislate against the province that we currently work in, but we can say that we’re more than willing to work with these members and make sure they can get the things that they need in a supported way.”