Marshall’s animal advocates focus a lot on the need for a new facility for the City of Marshall Police Department’s Animal Control. It can hardly be argued that it isn’t necessary. In addition to being far too small for a community of this size, the current shelter presents a myriad of health and safety issues.

A new facility is the single most important element of any comprehensive plan to improve the lot of Marshall’s animal population. But it is also true that a new building, while necessary, is not sufficient to achieve the goal of establishing a low-kill animal shelter.

Some steps cannot be taken before a new facility is available. There are programs in place now, however, that are already increasing the number of positive outcomes for our homeless animals. A few of these will be the subject of this and subsequent articles.

For Veteran’s Sake Foundation, a 501 (c) non-profit organization, provides an example of how helping animals can also mean helping people, and vice versa. The foundation is the brainchild of Monty Hutson, who combined first-hand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experience with a knowledge of dog training to create a unique approach to assisting veterans with PTSD.

The Veteran’s Administration (VA) has identified correlations between PTSD and veteran homelessness, substance abuse and suicide. While the VA does not currently provide service dogs for PTSD , it is conducting studies to determine the effectiveness of doing so. Enter Monty, who saw a way to help.

Instead of the traditional, and usually very expensive, approach of training a service dog and then matching it to a person, Monty pairs person and dog early in the process. In essence, he trains the person to train the dog, so that the dog becomes highly responsive to the individual’s unique stress triggers.

While he looks for certain common characteristics in a potential service dog, he obtains them almost exclusively from animal shelters.

The typical service dog-in-training is a mixed breed between 1 1/2 and 3 years old, over 20lbs, with minimal grooming requirements and no known medical issues. Fortunately for the foundation, animal shelters in the area, including Marshall’s, are teeming with dogs fitting this description.

For Veteran’s Sake Foundation provides service dogs to qualified veterans and first responders, which includes paramedics, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians, among others.Monty also wants to give something back to the larger community. Working with Marshall Animal Control, he wants to periodically invest time working individually with dogs in the shelter.

“In a short time, I can learn things about a dog’s temperament and behavior that are not usually on display in the shelter environment. With this information, some adopters will be more inclined to consider a dog they would otherwise pass by,” Monty explained.

Once Marshall has an animal shelter with a multi-purpose room, Monty plans to offer classes and demonstrations for new adopters of shelter dogs, and on rules and regulations for the use of service dogs. People in the Friends of Marshall Animals pet foster program will also be able to bring their dogs in for training assistance.

The casual observer may not be aware of some of the ways in which two other organizations, the Harrison County Humane Society — The Pet Place, and Friends of Marshall Animals are improving the lives of animals in the city and county.

They will be the focus of the next column in the series.