by Beth Zimmerman
Executive Director, Pets for Patriots
As anyone who has ever owned a dog or cat will tell you, pets have amazing impacts on our lives. They comfort us when we’re feeling down, make us smile with their playful antics, and even upset us sometimes when we think they’re misbehaving. Think of your favorite pair of shoes that, to your dog, looks like the perfect chew toy; how would he know they cost a month’s worth of kibble?
For most of us, pets add meaning to our lives. But for others, a pet can deliver a greater sense of purpose and provide a real lifeline to someone in need.
Pets for Patriots is a 501(c)(3) charity build around the simple premise that in one single act we could save two lives. We connect hard-to-adopt shelter animals that are otherwise destined to die – adult dogs and cats, large dogs and special needs pets – with veterans, soldiers in transition and wounded soldiers who would benefit from a companion animal. But we don’t stop there.
Pets for Patriots helps these heroes find their new pet friends.
To help ensure that these adoptions are sustainable and that, once adopted, these new best friends aren’t sent back to a shelter, we provide access to reduced cost care for the life of the adopted dog or cat. It is in this spirit that we value our partnership with HALO for Pets, which is providing generous, ongoing pet food discounts to veterans who join our free program. Coupled with access to reduced cost veterinary care, we believe we’re building a strong foundation towards our ultimate goal of ending animal homelessness through military pet adoptions.
Today there are over 23 million veterans at various ages and stages of their lives. For many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and other psychological illness often accompany their more visible physical wounds. Incidents of alcoholism, substance abuse and even domestic violence are not uncommon in soldiers who are trying to cope with the realities of war. Veterans of prior conflicts aren’t immune to these challenges, either, although the sheer number of newly returning veterans with significant disabilities is daunting.
These issues, and the more typical feelings of isolation that often mark a soldier’s return to civilian life can make re-integrating to society very difficult. There is help available – and it has four paws, whiskers and a tail.
HALO is providing generous, ongoing pet food discounts to veterans who join our free program.
The benefits of companion pets are real and proven. People feel less lonely and depressed in the company of an animal, and many pet owners say they feel as close to their dog or cat as they do to the human members of their family. Pets have great physical benefits, too. They boost our general activity and motility, reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and even help heart attack victims recovery more quickly.
For our veterans, a pet might be their most trusted friend. Dogs and cats are great listeners; with them our soldiers can confidently share stories of their service, secrets they keep from loved ones or unspoken fears. And the commitment required to care for a pet can restore a sense of purpose for a veteran who might have wondered if he or she still has a reason to live.
Pets for Patriots helps these heroes find their new pet friends through partnerships with not-for-profit shelters in their own communities. We provide educational information, access to reduced cost care and products and, in time, we plan to offer discounts for other pet-related resources in veterans’ neighborhoods. We’re all about helping veterans stay connected or even reintegrate with those around them, which is why our community-based model is at the core of our mission.
While it’s important to know what we are, it’s just as important to know what we’re not. Our organization does not provide service animals, and veterans whose needs require a specially trained pet will find that we’re not the right fit for them. But for those men and women who are coping with moderate physical or psychological issues, who are feeling lonely or isolated, who want a pet to help fill the void in their family when they are deployed, or who simply want the unconditional love and companionship of a dog or cat, we stand ready to help. It’s not just our mission, it’s our passion.