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Pets for Vets Celebrates 10th Years of Pairing Veterans with Companion Animals

It has made more than 350 veteran-pet matches nationwide.

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(PRESS RELEASE) Pets for Vets is celebrating its 10th Anniversary on Oct. 20. From one location in 2009 to the current 26 chapters across the U.S, the organization has successfully made more than 350 veteran-pet matches nationwide.

Much of the program’s growth over the past decade is attributed to the vision of Clarissa Black, founder and executive director. “As a volunteer years ago in the VA Long Beach, CA, I saw the powerful impact my dog, Bear, had on veterans. When veterans asked if Bear could stay with them beyond my afternoon visit, I knew what I could do to help positively impact more veterans’ lives.”

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With an educational background in animal behavior and training, Black began to build her business. The mission was simple: Enable veterans to have their own pet 24/7 to help improve their quality of life and she knew how important selecting and training the right dog for each veteran would be.

Through the years, Black and her team of hundreds of volunteers across the U.S. have carried out that mission. As a result, over 350 veterans have been helped.

Why Pets for Vets

Many brave troops return home with scars — both seen and unseen — that make it difficult to transition back to civilian life. At the same time, millions of wonderful companion animals wait in shelters for a forever home. Pets for Vets is the bridge that brings them together.

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When a veteran is matched with the right pet, both lives change for the better. The veteran saves the animal and welcomes him/her into a loving home. The pet provides unconditional love and support, easing stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety. Through the super bond they share, they give each other a brand-new start.

“I had a veteran tell me that the first night he met his dog, he opened up and told the dog everything — things he wasn’t able to talk to his family or therapist about,” Black says. “Another told me that since getting his dog, he’s spoken with more people than he has since returning home. That’s the great thing about dogs — they can act as a connection, as a bridge to other people, and that is so life-affirming.”

As Pets for Vets continues to grow, Black looks forward to helping more veterans and shelter animals find each other. “This began as a way to say ‘thank you’ to our veterans,” says Black. “Watching these bonds form has been so incredibly rewarding.

Chapter Growth Leads to Success

Black describes the chapters as the mission critical foundation to her program’s success. “Without the dedication and commitment from our local chapter volunteers, we would not be able to outreach as effectively as we do to both veterans and shelter animals we use in the program,” explains Ann Black, president, board of directors, Pets for Vets. “We are on track to continue to develop three to five new chapters this year.”

A Distinctly Unique Approach

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The program is unique in its approach, using a philosophy known as “Super Bond” to ensure a successful match. After getting to know the veteran, Pets for Vets volunteers go about finding the individual’s perfect pet at area shelters. Most requests are for dogs, but they also occasionally match cats, and have even placed rabbits.

“We eliminate the stress of getting a new pet,” says Black. “We really get to know our veterans and what they’re looking for in a pet. What kind of lifestyle do they lead? What is it that they expect from a pet? How do they express joy and love? Then, we go ask the same thing from the pet.”

After pets are selected, they go to the homes of professional Pets for Vets trainers, where they learn basic obedience skills, good pet manners, and other behaviors that may be helpful to veterans, such as being comfortable around wheelchairs or recognizing signs of panic or anxiety. Then, once the animal goes home, Pets for Vets provides a lifetime of guidance and support to ensure a successful placement.

Veteran Testimonial — Adam Renteria

Conventional treatment was not helping Sgt. Adam Renteria deal with his symptoms of PTSD and TBI after his deployment to Iraq as an infantry soldier. PTSD left Renteria feeling isolated; being out in public would cause him to have severe panic attacks, rooftops and windows still seemed like places for snipers to hide, walking around corners caused severe anxiety, debilitating nightmares made sleep impossible and noises reminded him of the war zone he had just left. He knew he needed something more than medication and intermittent therapy sessions. Renteria needed someone he could rely on, someone who could make him feel protected in public and allow him to not isolate himself by staying inside anymore. Pets for Vets found Rakassan, a Jindo mix, at a local shelter. He excelled at his training, learning new behaviors to help with PTSD very quickly, but he took more time to become used to an outside environment. When they met for the first time, Rakassan climbed up on the couch next to Renteria and nestled in next to him. Since then, they have become inseparable and Rakassan is in tune to Renteria’s every move, sleeping with him at night, which eases his nightmares, being vigilant to their surroundings so Renteria does not have to be and helping Renteria feel comfortable in public. Renteria now enjoys going on outings, including to his son’s baseball games. Renteria has said, “Clarissa Black is my angel. She found the most perfect dog for me. I would not have been able to pick out a dog that was better suited to me. Rakassan and Pets for Vets saved my life.”

Veteran Testimonial — Eric Evitts

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Recently, Pets for Vets gave Evitts a beautiful dog named Sloopy, part lab and part whippet. Before Sloopy was given to Evitts, he was frequently visiting the VA clinic receiving treatment for PTSD. He had nightmares, anxiety, mood swings, and a friend encouraged him to look into Pets for Vets. “Two helpful ladies in the Southwest Indiana Chapter trained a wonderful dog for me,” says Evitts. “Sloopy has made me feel absolutely 100 percent better in every aspect of my life. She is my best friend and even though we haven’t lived together for long, I honestly couldn’t think of what I would do without her. Sloopy is always right there for me; she watches TV with me, runs with me in the park and even sleeps right by me in my bed. Other than when I’m at work, there is never a time that we are apart. There aren’t enough hugs and thank yous in this world to show how grateful I am towards Pets for Vets. It is an absolutely amazing organization and I highly recommend it for any veteran.”

petsforvets.com

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