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Al Franken's first order of Senate business: more service dogs for veterans

July 21, 2009 |  7:55 pm

Al Franken

While many thought that Al Franken's bid for Senate was something of a joke, the former Saturday Night Live comedian is starting his freshman term with a very sobering bill: a program designed to give service dogs to wounded veterans.

"As someone who's spent time with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on USO tours and met wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, I feel a deep obligation to the men and women who have risked life and limb on our behalf," Franken explained in an op-ed piece in Sunday's Star-Tribune.

But after meeting Iraq war veteran Luis Carlos Montalvan, Franken was impressed with Tuesday, Montalvan's golden retriever. According to Montalvan, a 36-year-old ex-intelligence officer who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, attending the event and meeting Franken would have been impossible for him without the help of Tuesday, who assists not only with his physical needs but with his emotional comfort as well. "Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic," Montalvan told the Wall Street Journal. "In bad moments, he'll lay his head on my leg, and it'll be like he's saying, 'You're OK. You're not alone.' "

According to Franken, most veterans cannot afford service dogs; the cost to train each one and place it with the proper soldier is about $25,000. "Luis got Tuesday from one of the nonprofit agencies around the country that trains service dogs," Franken wrote. "I visited one of them, Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota, and saw dogs opening doors and answering phones. I saw a German shepherd named Pepsi pick a nickel off a tile floor and give it to a young woman in a wheelchair."

Franken's plan is to start a pilot program that will "help train a statistically significant number of dogs to measure the benefits to veterans with physical and emotional wounds. The program would be monitored and refined over a three-year period to optimize its effectiveness."

-- Tony Pierce

Photo: Franken during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images

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