“It’s hard to be a service dog, just like it’s often hard to be disabled…Please always respect service dogs and the people who need them.” – Luis Carlos Montalván and Tuesday

Pace University’s College of Health Professions launched the first college curriculum on service and therapy dogs in health care at Pace’s Westchester campus. Inspired by the advocacy work of Iraq War veteran and author, Luis Carlos Montalván along with his service dog Tuesday, Pace faculty members Joanne K. Singleton, PhD, RN, and Lucille Ferrara, EdD, RN, joined forces with them and Lu Picard, co-founder and director of programs for Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), to develop the curriculum.

The curriculum is the first and only in the country to educate future health care professionals, including nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, about the care of patients with disabilities who are teamed with or may benefit from being teamed with a service dog, or who may benefit from participation in the range of animal assisted therapies. The new university curriculum can serve as a model for other colleges and health care professionals.

Service and therapy dogs were part of the faculty today at the Pace launch and students learned first-hand how to include service and therapy dogs in comprehensive care treatment plans. The Pace curriculum will enhance understanding aimed at supporting health outcomes of individuals with visible and invisible disabilities, including equal participation in society.

“Over 56 million people in the United States have visible and invisible disabilities,” said Picard. “Many who are not partnered with a service dog could greatly benefit. Service dogs can help people with many different disabilities, such as a loss of a limb, gait and balance disorders, autism, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The goal of being partnered with a service dog is to help a person with disabilities to thrive.”

Montalván was a highly decorated former U.S. Army Captain. A wounded warrior following his combat service in Iraq, he suffered from the debilitating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and physical disabilities. He and Tuesday traveled the world as tireless advocates for those with disabilities, especially those scarred by the effects of war. Montalván worked intensively with Singleton and her team as they prepared for the launch, in which he planned to participate. Unexpectedly, Montalván took his own life in December, reinforcing the need to continue his work and address the 20-22 veteran suicides per day as reported by Military Affairs.

“Luis was deeply committed to the development of this curriculum and, taking another step in his advocacy work with Tuesday, bringing this awareness and knowledge to health care professionals at the point of care,” said Singleton. “He was intimately aware of the benefits of service dogs as well as participating in animal assisted therapies. Luis’ disabilities and death are a tragedy of war. He remains a hero to me, and all those who he helped and touched through his advocacy work with Tuesday. Our curriculum, which will impact practitioners and patients alike for years to come, is part of his legacy.”

“Cultural competence is a pillar of our programs,” said Ferrara. “Educating our students about patients with disabilities is essential. How service and therapy dogs can be key helpers in a therapeutic care plan must be part of the conversation and part of the curriculum.”

College of Health Professions Dean Harriet R. Feldman, PhD, RN, FAAN, agrees. “The importance and impact of this curriculum, extends beyond Pace, as access to service dogs and animal assisted therapies for individuals with disabilities are paramount to health and must be within the scope of practice of health care providers,” said Feldman. “We are grateful for funding from the Hugoton Foundation to make this curriculum a reality for our students.”