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North Hills Monthly

Veterans and Pets Rescue Each Other through Shelter Programs

Nov 01, 2016 06:59AM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe

It is estimated that 22 military veterans commit suicide every single day. Additionally, 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized annually because there’s simply no one to adopt them. So what happens when you take a needy shelter animal and pair it with a military veteran with trauma? You save two lives at once.

At Animal Friends, there are two ways that veterans can find their new best friends. They can indicate on the adoption form that they are veterans with active duty service and the adoption fee for a dog, cat or rabbit will be waived. “Waiving the fee is a boost to get them started on what they need for a pet,” explained board of directors’ member Robert Fragasso of the approximately $75 adoption fee.

The second program is a bit more in-depth and is backed by the national Pets for Vets organization.  Intended for those veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or an unresolved stress that has not been officially diagnosed, Pets for Vets matches adopters with a trained emotional support companion. 

“The animal can be a dog, cat or rabbit; it’s based on preference or living arrangements,” explained Fragasso. “These pets are meant for emotional support and not as service animals.” In short, this means that these animals are not afforded the same legal protections as those that fall under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If adopters choose a rabbit as a pet, they are able to take it home immediately. However, if the person decides to adopt a dog or cat, then a trainer assists in the process. The trainer meets with the veteran to discuss his or her concerns and lifestyle, and will then choose an animal that most closely matches the adopter’s needs. The trainer will then spend six to eight weeks training the animal; training for dogs may include desensitization to wheelchairs or recognizing a person’s anxiety; cat training can include making sure that the animal is social, comfortable with a collar and leash, knows how to use perches and scratching posts, and may even understand basic commands. 

Some animals just seem to know what their person needs. “One of our recent adopters had trouble sleeping,” said Fragasso. “The dog he adopted had a set bedtime for herself and she would come downstairs, look at the adopter and go back upstairs. Now the adopter goes to bed when the dog does and sleeps through the night.” 

If the training is successful, only then will the veteran be able to meet the pet. This process follows the Pets to Vets model in order to ensure that the animal chosen is truly a match. “We don’t want someone to get attached to a pet and then find out that the animal cannot be trained according to their needs,” Fragasso said. 

The program, including training and supplies, costs approximately $1,500 but is free of charge to the adopter. To learn more, visit or visit the shelter at its Camp Horne Road location.

Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center (ARL) has partnered with another national veterans’ organization, Pets for Patriots. The program, which works with different adoption partners throughout the United States, provides approved adopters a 10 percent discount on the adoption fee plus 10 percent off medical expenses for the life of the pet.  This discount is available to all active duty, reservists or retired military personnel.

According to Janice Barnard of the ARL, those approved will receive a letter to present to the shelter when they are ready to adopt. “There are some adoption restrictions—pets must be cats or dogs two years old or older; animals with special needs including medical issues that may make them more challenging to adopt; or any dog over 40 pounds, regardless of age,” she explained. To apply, veterans should visit or call 877-473-8223.

Western PA Humane Society (WPAHS) has a stand-alone program funded by The Pittsburgh Foundation, The United Way of Allegheny County, Education Management Corporation, and the Veteran’s Leadership Program. Veterans are eligible for free adoptions and free canine obedience classes through WPAHS, as well as 25 percent off vaccines, microchips, spay/neuter, and wellness exams at the WPAHS on-site clinic for any animal, regardless of where it was adopted. For more information, veterans should contact or 412-321-4625 x234.

Most programs do ask that veterans provide either a military ID or DD214. Other restrictions may apply, so veterans should visit their local shelters to find out how rescuing an animal could make a difference in their lives.

Animal Friends is currently in need of trainers to help with their veterans’ program. Trainers do not need certifications of any kind but do need experience with animals and are asked to spend six to eight weeks with an animal in their home.

For more information, see image below.