MELIORA, Inc. is a bilingual, injured “veteran, first responders and their family”-run program, Canadian not for profit organization dedicated to the principle and practice of making highly skilled and effective certified service dogs a reality to persons traumatized in the line of duty and whose quality of life depends on it. MELIORA dogs meet the highly regarded Standards for Service Dogs developed by the organization (www.melioraservicedogs.com).
The MELIORA team is made up of a volunteer Board of Directors, Chaired by Pamella Matteau, and numerous committees: Executive, Legal, Research, Operations, Outreach and Social Media. MELIORA’ vision is to be Canada’s preeminent service dog provider, preserving and repurposing “veteran, first responders and their family”’ quality of life, through restorative change with the support of psychiatric service dogs.
MELIORA applies a unique evidence-based and holistic model to the “veteran, first responders and their family” - service dog partnership. Key features of the program include its commitment to peer support and personalized curriculum that responds to learning styles. This approach mirrors peer “Service and Support” conditions when veterans and first responders are on deployment; it creates an individualized experience that draws on familiar routines and peers and decreases unnecessary stressors. Second, a combination of both in-person and virtual learning materials are used. In-person training of the SDTm is based on positive reinforcement with the canine learning to process information and remain focused on its user/handler while managing stimulus and distractions. The overall intention is to create a co-ordinated team, building the canine and veteran/first responder’s skills in parallel. A third feature of the MELIORA program is active and mandatory participation on the part of the “veteran, first responders and their family” in their regular medical and mental health treatment plans, and involving the beneficiaries’ SDTm in these plans. And fourth, MELIORA program beneficiaries must be involved in ongoing SDTm training.
The wellbeing of both the “veteran, first responders and their family” and canine are central to the MELIORA program. A “Fit for Duty” annual veterinarian visit and report is required for each participating SDTm. Procedures are in place to ensure the dog is consistently treated well by the “veteran, first responders and their family” and that the dog stays mentally and physically sound. The “veteran, first responders and their family” must likewise provide a psychiatric assessment from their mental health professional or physician at the start of the training, followed by a yearly assessment. The wellbeing of human and animal program beneficiaries are continually monitored by the program’s peer support component.
The MELIORA program applies a client-centred approach that adheres to trauma and gender-informed care principles. It has positioned itself to lead by example with both comprehensive programming and standards and an experienced, interdisciplinary and community-based team. Research is integrated into the program to address the lack of evidence on the impact of a highly trained SDTms. MELIORA leverages expertise at all levels of its ongoing program development and offering SDTms, evolving the program and training delivery as new evidence-based data emerges from the research undertaken by its own team and others. The MELIORA program is also culturally sensitive, with awareness that “veteran, first responders and their family” originate from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
MELIORA is a no-cost program for “veteran, first responders or their family”. It is a registered Non-Profit organization [Reg#: 724345137RR0001] and [AB Reg#: 5322984120]), and operates through in- kind services and partner and community donations. The program includes training of the SDTm in 4 stages, certification and re-certifications, as well as peer support – all at no cost to the veteran or first responder. The program can offer support in the identification and acquisition of a dog and initial vetting regulations for potential service work.
The MELIORA Program Standards are outlined in a comprehensive manual that is aligned with the program’s vision and logic model. All descriptions and definitions of substantive and non-substantive procedures embedded throughout the MELIORA organization in its practices are detailed in the manual. The Standards include expectations for each level of “veteran, first responders or their family” development in the SDTm program, and align with User/Handler agreements. The Standards also serve as a framework to guide administrators on their roles and responsibilities in delivery of the MELIORA program. Development of the Standards into a manual took into consideration the mental health learning challenges that accompany OSIs. A manual with sub-manuals design was chosen to align with CAF and RCMP Standards formats. The familiarity provided by a similar approach can assist veterans and first responders with comprehending the material, reducing anxiety, and providing consistency throughout all levels of the program: administrative, operational procedures and learning/development. The comprehensive standards manual was developed to assist veterans and first responders with meeting the expectations of MELIORA’ comprehensive SDTm program. The manual is a living document; it is continually evolving in-line with new training and mental health material and learning approaches identified by the latest evidence.
“The official flower of the military child is the dandelion. Why? The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.
Experts say that military children are well-rounded, culturally aware, tolerant, and extremely resilient. Military children have learned from an early age that home is where their hearts are, that a good friend can be found in every corner of the world, and that education doesn’t only come from school. They live history. They learn that to survive means to adapt, that the door that closes one chapter of their life opens up to a new and exciting adventure full of new friends and new experiences.”
- Unknown Author