Jonah’s successor, Mambo has been with Stone for the past 4 years. Along with helping with physical tasks and his mobility issues, Mambo has empowered Stone to rediscover a sense of purpose since leaving the Armed Forces.
“My injury stripped me of the person I was trained to be. Mambo not only brought back my freedom and independence, but also gave me an opportunity to serve my country in new ways,” Stone said.
With his dogs by his side, Stone, a member of AMVETS, replaced his camo and fatigues with a few new uniforms. He has competed as a U.S. Paralympian in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, winning a bronze medal in archery and raising the American flag on foreign soil. He was also a coach and mentor for the U.S. Paralympic Committee’s Military Program and served his community as a veterans service officer.
Jonah and Mambo have opened many doors for Stone, but his local VA hospital isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, some VA facilities prohibit service dogs from entering. The only dogs fully-protected by law to enter all VA facilities are guide dogs, which are used by people with vision problems. The VA has left it up to each facility’s discretion whether or not to permit access to service dogs.
Stone has experienced firsthand the frustration of being turned away from a VA facility because of his dog. He was recently denied Inpatient Services at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia and missed important medical appointments because officials said Mambo presented too many risks to let in. The hospital was mainly concerned with Stone’s ability to care for his dog and the threat of “zoonotic disease transfer”.
“As far as I know, other than microbes and small biologics that could be passed by floating dander or a shed of fur, the only ‘zoonotic disease’ a canine can transfer is the topical ringworm which would have to be transferred from a human host first,” Stone explained.
“Obviously, there are certain areas of VA facilities where dogs should not be allowed, such as burn units or other sensitive sterile areas. But if a veteran is attending a group meeting or appointment, why shouldn’t their service dog be allowed in,” he added.
Thousands of veterans like Stone view service dogs as crucial vehicles to pursuing active lifestyles. For many, they are not a luxury, but a necessity.
“They are motivational prosthetics of freedom. Service dogs are just as important as someone’s wheelchair. Without them, many veterans living with disabilities would be lost.”
There are currently two pieces of legislation that would help protect the rights of veterans who use service dogs, while also ensuring these animals are available to a larger portion of the disabled veteran population.
The first bill, the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act (H.R. 1154), introduced by Congressman John Carter, R-Texas, ensures that all veterans with disabilities who use service dogs are able to access VA facilities. In the Senate, S. 769 would also provide similar protections.
The second bill, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198), introduced by Congressman Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., would create a pilot program to determine whether veterans with post-deployment mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder could benefit by participating in the training of service dogs for fellow veterans.
VetsFirst, AMVETS, and other advocacy groups have joined Stone to educate the public and politicians on Capitol Hill about the positive impact that service dogs have on the quality of life of veterans living with disabilities nationwide. Mambo has also become a major player in these efforts.
“My dog has become a politician, and a damned good one,” Stone said.