This weekend is Veteran’s Day and which honors all men and women who have served in the military throughout time. It seems like veterans of recent conflicts are coming home with more severe injuries (medical advances have allowed us to save people who, in the past, would not have survived their injuries) and with two now recognized conditions called PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury. It is estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and that is not acceptable. I think Veteran’s Day should focus on both honoring our military and bringing awareness to their needs.
Two groups that are working to help these veterans by placing shelter animals into their homes are Pets for Vets and Companions for Heroes. They both have the same goal and similar process in that they scour animal shelters for dogs and cats that they feel have the temperament and sociability to make good service animals and then match them up with veterans that have requested a service animal. The benefits have been huge with these veterans saying that having these pets have allowed them to sleep better, calmed them when they were angry, lifted depression, given them a reason to live and more.
Both organizations fundraise so that they are able to provide these animals (mostly dogs but also cats) at no cost to the veteran in need. Pets for Vets also provides extensive training for the dogs before they are actually placed in the home which is a huge bonus. Dogs trained to work with those suffering from PTSD can recognize the signs of frustration and anxiety, sometimes before the people even realize it themselves. They also can help those that suffer from reoccurring nightmares by waking them at the first signs before the terror sets in. We all know how important a good night’s sleep can be and that’s especially true for those under stress.
Having these pets not only opens social doors as the veterans connect with other dog owners at dog parks, but being a part of these organizations gives them a built-in support unit. Having a dog also gets a veteran that may be depressed and just wanting to sleep or hole up in their house a reason to get out to walk. All these things are true for anyone suffering from depression but especially true for returning veterans who may have lost their network of friends while being deployed for long periods of time.
If you go to the website for these two groups (http://www.petsforvets.com/ and http://companionsforheroes.org/) there are short video clips where veterans talk about how much having one of these service dog has meant to them. They are quite moving! There is still a stigma in our country about admitting that you might need help – it indicates a “weakness” which is not something that a soldier would like to admit. Getting veterans to accept help can be the biggest challenge and this program directly deals with that.
The best part of these programs is how it is presented as a win-win situation for the animals too, which of course, it is. Instead of breeding dogs for these veterans like other service dog organizations, all of these animals are adopted from animal shelters. The veterans feel good knowing that they are, in fact, saving a life and not just the recipient of a donation, which can sometimes be hard for the proud to accept. By couching it in terms that the dog needs the person as much as the person needs the dog it can make a stubborn warrior more agreeable to take the pet on.
These are great programs and they deserve to be highlighted not only on Veteran’s Day, but throughout the year. If you know of an ex-military person that might benefit from a service animal please let them know about these two great programs!
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30, Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 and Sun 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.