Sometimes, a Veteran’s best friend may actually have four legs. Companions for Heroes is matching rescue animals, or homeless pets, with Veterans, as a way for both to heal from their wounds, together.
Candace Klein has been fostering Hildy, a playful, 28-pound, dachshund mix, for about a month. “She’s a wonderful companion," says Klein. "And she gets along well with other dogs, children, everybody!”
As a foster mom, Klein has not only been taking care of Hildy, who otherwise would be in a shelter or euthanized, but sizing her up. Her goal, shy says, "was to find out the temperament of the animal, see what I can do to make sure she’s housebroken, learn her quirks and qualms and what she would enjoy so we can make a very good match for her for a veteran."
Klein is President of the Buckhead Rotary Club, where 40% of its members are veterans. As a service to veterans, and a lover of animals, she wanted to find a project that would help both pets in need and Veterans who have needs, "whether that’s post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, or other challenges," said Klein.
She teamed up with her friend Cathy Roth from Urban Pet Project, a non-profit that rescues animals from high euthanasia-rate facilities. Roth says one animal is euthanized in the United States every eight seconds. She says you’d be surprised at how many animals that come out of animal control really are superior pets. "They really have the ability to do and to be what families want them to do.”
Roth is an Air Force veteran from the first gulf war and experienced first hand the stress that servicemen and women go through. The other thing she experienced, she says, is the love and joy and a companionship that a little furry face can bring, "through the long nights, through the hard days, a dog or a cat can always be there to give you the love and support that you need.”
Companion pets, she says, can do wonders not only for soldiers but also for their families. “If an active service duty member’s child is having problems coping with mom or dad being gone, it may do that child a lot of good to have a dog to cuddle up with at night.”
Roth and Klein teamed up with Companions for Heroes, a national group that arranges no-cost adoptions for Veterans and families of service-members. They do screenings, follow-ups provide gift cards for the pet’s health care and supplies needed for a year.
Unlike service-dogs, which are used for specific conditions and can take more than a year to train, companion pets, says Roth, are there for companionship and are more readily available. “The time frame for a veteran or service member to get a dog through companion for heroes can be as little a week to ten days. it’s a very quick turnaround.”
And it’s not just dogs. It can be cats or even bunnies.
Klein’s Rotary Club raised the 20-thousand dollars needed to pay for 20 companion-for heroes adoptions. So far, the Atlanta arm of Companions for Heroes has matched four pets with four veterans since July, when they started the program.
For veterans unable to adopt a pet but want to spend time with animals, Candace Klein says they also host an one day a month where veterans from the Shepherd Center, come and spend a day with the animals at the shelter.
"This is where they can have a stress free environment," says Klein. "They may not be in a position to adopt an animal but they can have a vicarious pet experience." Candace Klein says when everyone in the community steps up, everybody wins. "It’s about how we can make the community stronger and how we can find a way to help ease some of the pain a veteran may be experiencing or in just a small way, let the veterans know that we care about them."