They’re called man’s (or woman’s) best friend, and for good reason. Dogs seem to have the natural ability to feed off human emotions and reciprocate. Through a mutual understanding of things like happiness, fear and empathy, dogs and their caretakers are able to form a bond the way one would with a family member or friend.
Clarissa Black has devoted her career to understanding the minds of animals. As an animal trainer with a master’s in anthrozoology — the study of interactions between humans and other animals — Black spent years working with elephants and dolphins. But it was a trip to the local Veterans Affairs Hospital with her dog that sparked the idea that would become her passion.
Watching how the veterans lit up and responded to her dog, named Bear, Black was inspired to use her skills and resources to start training rescue dogs as a means of therapy for America’s veterans, particularly those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, anxiety and depression.
“You could almost feel this weight being lifted off of them, that sort of sigh and that breath, and you could see their smiles,” said Black.
She started the nonprofit organization Pets for Vets, whose mission was to not only help struggling veterans, but also to give a second chance to shelter dogs around the country, many of whom are destined for an unhappy ending.
It’s a win-win for people like Casey, a young Navy veteran struggling with PTSD, who has turned his life around thanks to Jazzy, one of the many rescue dogs released to Pets for Vets from an animal shelter.
“Without Jazzy, before her, my life was pretty sketchy. But now, I’m pretty social. I’m not afraid of that many things anymore. The dog did it,” said Casey. “It makes me feel better about myself that I’m able to take care of her.”
Through an extensive matchmaking process, a Pets for Vets team member interviews each veteran to evaluate which animal would be the right fit based on personality and lifestyle. Once the pet is selected, the animal is trained to be obedient and learns skills that will benefit its new owner’s condition.
With chapters around the country, Pets for Vets is not only helping shelter dogs find the love they deserve, but also it’s a way to say thank you to our country’s veterans for their service and dedication.
To donate and for more information on Pets for Vets, please visit http://www.petsforvets.com.