Shelter Pets Help Veterans Transition to Civilian Life

More than 60 percent of post 9/11 military veterans report difficulty adjusting to life after they return from active duty. Statistics show high incidents of suicide, family abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSD) facing veterans returning to civilian life. Many veterans miss the structure and routine of life in the service. And for some caring for a companion animal not only relieves stress and depression but it also provides the structure they need to make the transition easier.

It was while volunteering at a Veterans Affairs hospital with her therapy dog that animal trainer Clarissa Black saw the difference animals could make in the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions. She founded the nonprofit Pets for Vets in 2009. The organization has chapters throughout the country and is dedicated to supporting veterans and providing a second chance for shelter dogs and cats by rescuing, training and pairing them with veterans who could benefit from a companion animal.

Dog Rescued off the Street Transforms Soldiers Life

Eddy is in his 21st year of military service, which included three tours overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. He suffers from depression and anxiety attacks and reached out for help to Pets for Vets – ROAR Ridgefield, CT Chapter that operates out of the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR) shelter. He was matched with Sam, a Labrador retriever mix, who had been rescued off the streets in Mississippi and was enrolled in the Pets for Vets program because of his awesome personality.

SamSam was enrolled in the Pets for Vets program because of his awesome personality.
Photo Courtesy of Pets for Vets – ROAR  Ridgefield, CT Chapter.

Eddy says that Sam got him off the couch, introduced him to wonderful people and “…stole away his depression.” In an update on the Pets for Vets website, Eddy wrote: “Sam’s non-verbal communication seems so easy to read. It’s as if he and I were old friends in another life. Sam has also helped me start to bridge the gap with explaining some of what is going on in my life with my family.”

Great matches don’t happen by accident

Pets for Vets coordinators and trainers work hard to get to know the veterans and their needs. It’s important not to rush the process, said Didi Tulloch director of the Pets for Vets – ROAR chapter. Tulloch, who has volunteered at the ROAR shelter for 10 years, works with a team of trainers to identify and train dogs considered a good match for veterans. The dogs—pulled from shelters across the country—are adopted by ROAR and placed into foster homes while trainers work on teaching them good manners and how to react to panic and anxiety disorders.

Pets for Vets provides services free of charge to veterans. The organization pays adoption and training fees and provides all of the supplies necessary to get the veterans started with their dogs. Tulloch said the ROAR chapter is lucky to have enormous support from the local community and from veterinarians and veterinary laboratories that offer discounted services for veterans’ dogs.

Veterans Trust Pets for Vets Trainers to Make the Best Match

“Veterans can find shelter dogs everywhere but what makes our matches so successful is that the Pets for Vets trainers are skilled at identifying temperaments that will match a veteran’s personality,” Tulloch said. “In the end it’s the trainers who choose the dogs. Veterans have to trust that the trainers will make the right decision.”

Army veteran Maryann Dyer suffers from PTSD, military sexual trauma, panic attacks and has nerve damage to her entire body. When she reached out to Pets for Vets she was hoping to be matched with a medium-sized dog. The veteran felt that a larger dog would give her a sense of protection. Instead, the trainer at Pets for Vets matched her with Wookiee, a 12-pound Shi-Tzu mix. It turned out to be a perfect partnership. In her update to Pets for Vets, Dyer wrote: “Just looking into Wookiee’s eyes and playing with her each day gives me great delight. Taking her for small walks gives me a sense of responsibility for someone else on days that I’m depressed, and a reason to get up and function.”

Rescue Dog Helps U.S. Airforce Veteran Cope with Medical Problems 

After serving 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, Melanie Johnson decided to leave the military to focus on the fight for her life. Battling pulmonary vascular disease, blood clots, respiratory distress and high blood pressure became overwhelming. Johnson was depressed and reached out to Pets for Vets for help.

Her life turned around when she was matched with shelter dog Abigail. In her update to Pets for Vets she wrote:

“From the very first day, Abigail has been my constant companion. Where I go, so does Abigail, constantly supporting me and cheering me on in her own way. Abigail can sense how I am feeling. When I am down, she is there quietly supporting me. When I have my good days, Abigail is also there, tail wagging ready to have a good time. Somehow, Abby has become my new family and makes the struggles of chronic health challenges bearable. Since adopting Abigail, my blood pressure has been lower and I have had more good days than bad.”

MelanieArmy veteran Melaine Johnson was matched with companion dog Abigail.
Photo courtesy of  Pets for Vets- ROAR Ridgefield, CT Chapter.

Tulloch said the Pets for Vets program is a win-win for both veterans and animals. And for her it’s an honor to help bring the two together.

“It is such a gift to be able to help these veterans who have done so much for us,” Tulloch said. “And it’s so rewarding to place rescued dogs into homes where they are living the lives they were always meant to live!”

Go to the Pets for Vets website to find a local chapter or to learn how you can help support the program.  

Related Stories:

Photo courtesy of Pets for Vets - ROAR Ridgefield, CT Chapter


Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson1 months ago

Thank you.

Jan K
Jan K2 months ago

Thank you for posting

Maria P
Maria P2 months ago

thank you

Gino C
Gino C2 months ago


Kelsey S
Kelsey S2 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago


hELEN h2 months ago


Shirley S
Shirley S2 months ago

An animal's company is so soothing.

Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

They are all adorable and great companions Thank you for caring and sharing