Debbie Kandoll of Ft. Bliss, Tex., protests Army policy barring her dogs from recognition as service dogs for injured soldiers

10:48 PM, Apr 30, 2012   |    comments
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FT. BLISS, Texas & WASHINGTON, D.C.  (WUSA) - "I lost who I was. I lost all feeling. I lost the ability to love," says Pfc. Brandy Dagle, fighting back tears.  Dagle, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas was so depressed she says she was near suicide. The PTSD she developed while serving in Afghanistan was too much to bear until she was prescribed Tasha, her military service dog.

"Having a service dog, I'm gaining to love back," says Dagle.

Tasha was trained by Debbie Kandoll, the founder of Mutts Assisting Soldier Heroes, or, "MASH."  Kandoll trains and matches her dogs with soldiers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.  The dogs are rescues from shelters.

Kandoll, a volunteer dog trainer, recently traveled from El Paso to Washington to meet with top Army officials and protest a new policy that prohibits her K9s from being recognized as service dogs. 

Among other things, the policy states that dogs trained by anyone other than a private company called Assistance Dogs International (ADI) do not meet Army recognition as service dogs.  Kandoll isn't affiliated with ADI, and her dogs have been banned from certain Army posts, including Fort Bliss.

"They are not wanting to allow them," says Kandoll.  "It varies according to the Commander.  The Commander has the ultimate authority."

To get a service dog that's been trained by Kandoll costs about $450. The other option would be to go through an organization accredited by the ADI, and that can cost anywhere between $2,000 to $3,000.

The current Army policy has been scrutinizing wounded warriors who depend on the dogs that Kandoll trains.  The outrage from soldiers who've had to deal with the backlash at Fort Bliss is growing.

"We served our country. We didn't ask for these problems," says one Army specialist.  "And it's pissing me off that they're making paperwork so damn hard to get a dog that helps you."

Kandoll is hoping her presence in Washington will get Army brass to re-think their policy, and allow her K9s to be recognized as service dogs.

"Will someone with the power to change this expeditiously, so no more wounded warriors have to die, step up to the plate and be a hero?" asks Kandoll.

9NEWS NOW reached out to the U.S. Army for an interview on this K9 issue.  Maria Tolleson, spokesperson at the Office of The Army Surgeon General, wrote back saying, in part, "We are currently reviewing our Service Dog policy with our various stakeholders....It would be premature for us to speak with you about this policy while active discussion is taking place regarding it."

Army officials are expected to announce what changes, if any, they will make to their policy this week, and promise 9NEWS NOW an interview at that time.

Meanwhile, soldiers at Fort Bliss with MASH-trained dogs have had to make the decision to either give up their dogs or move off base.

Pfc. Brandy Dagle chose to move off base in order to keep her dog, Tasha. She says she was denied her Army housing allowance. But Dagle says it's a decision she had to make. Living without Tasha is impossible.

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