Pets for Vets is a charity founded by Clarissa Black that benefits veterans by giving them a pet. Clarissa Black is a talented animal trainer who has experience with therapy dogs. She decided to start rescuing animals, particularly dogs, from shelters and training them for placement with vets. One of the most interesting aspects of the Pets for Vets program is how the vets and pets are chosen by personality. It is like match-making for vets and pets. They are assessed and given a chance to meet before they commit.
It is lovely to hear about any charity that is aimed at helping the men and women who have served in foreign wars, but what can dogs do to help vets. Military History Examiner Shelly Barclay sat down and interviewed Army OIF/OEF veteran former Spc. Stone to find out what he thinks about the Pets for Vets program and whether it can help.
Shelly Barclay: In your experience, what are the most common problems that veterans bring home?
Stone: (Stone pauses, obviously contemplating the laundry list of issues.) Besides physical disabilities from combat trauma? (I nod.) There are PTSD, mental disorders, other anxiety disorders and general readjustment issues.
Shelly Barclay: What problems do these disabilities present in their every day lives?
Stone: Self-medication issues associated with survivor’s guilt, self-isolation, extreme anxiety, depression and socializing issues.
Shelly Barclay: What among these issues do you think a pet could help?
Stone: An unconditional friend can help with depression. It also gives you responsibility outside of yourself.
Shelly Barclay: What about the responsibility of a pet is unlike other responsibilities in that it can help?
Stone: I would look at it in a light that another human should be able to take care of his or herself, but an animal requires outside assistance from a human. You have to come home to feed it. You have to walk it and care for it.
Shelly Barclay: Do you think pets specifically chosen for individual vets can be beneficial? If so, why?
Stone: Absolutely! It would be a more comfortable situation. They can help with stress — ease anxiety. If they are comfortable with a match based on personality, I think it would be very successful.
Shelly Barclay: Do you feel like dogs have an advantage over other pets in this department? If so, why?
Stone: I happen to love dogs, so I am slightly biased. I can say it’s more of a manly pet. (laughs) Also, the size and loyalty of a dog makes them more likely to feel like back-up.
Shelly Barclay: What about their senses? Do you feel like a dog’s acute senses can make veterans feel more comfortable or that they can help?
Stone: I used to ride [motorcycles] with a guy who had a cocker spaniel service dog. He, the guy, not the dog, was a combat vet who served in the navy during the Vietnam War. He had a very bad anxiety disorder. He would go into severe panic attacks — crippling panic attacks. The dog would actually be able to sense when he was getting close to that and he would tug his leg so he would get out of the situation.
Shelly Barclay: In what other sort of situations do you feel like these animals can help vets?
Stone: Really, all around. Like I said, a loyal friend, an overall sense of purpose can be very helpful.
Shelly Barclay: Do you feel like such animals can alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD, as far as situational anxiety?
Stone: I would equate it to carrying a weapon, which gives vets a sense of safety. I think it would help relieve anxiety.
Shelly Barclay: Do you think it would be something like spending time with a battle buddy?
Stone: Yes, absolutely.
Shelly Barclay: Pets for Vets just finds a pet for vets. They really cannot say when and where the pets will be welcome. Do you feel like mentally disabled vets should be allowed service animals in the same way other disabled people do?
Stone: I would imagine it being it like any other adoption process. The home would have to be fit and it couldn’t be an abusive household. If the mental disorder was such that a person could not possibly take care of an animal, it would make things worse. It has to be good for the animal and the owner.
Shelly Barclay: Do you feel like if the situation is right, mentally disabled vets should be allowed animals in all situations?
Stone: As long as they are found to be a fit owner. I would do it myself and I think it would be very beneficial for me, so yes.
Shelly Barclay: In what sort of situations could a Vet Pet be helpful if it were allowed in situations where service dogs are allowed?
Stone: Again, it gives you that unwavering companionship. It would be like being with a battle buddy. You would be more comfortable in any environment with them. All crowded social situations where vets feel like there could be danger, a dog could alleviate that anxiety because they could sense danger, especially if the dog is trained to cope with that disability.
Shelly Barclay: Overall, do you feel like Pets for Vets is a good program?
Stone: Yes. That is a great relief to have a trained animal that is specifically catered to the vet and vets always appreciate any assistance.
Shelly Barclay: Would you suggest it to vets who are dealing with service-related issues?
Stone: Yes, I would.
Shelly Barclay: Thank you for giving us this interview and for your service.
Stone: Thank you. (smiles)