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8 Therapy Dog Programs that are Helping US Veterans

From post traumatic stress disorder to feelings of isolation and depression, US veterans reacclimating to civilian life face a long, hard road. Thankfully, a number of charitable organizations are working to smooth the path forward by partnering highly trained service dogs with veterans in need. 

The human-animal bond is a powerful thing. Animals—dogs in particular—can help us heal while improving our overall quality of life. Research shows that service dogs offer comfort and support, reduce stress and depression, and ease social reintegration. 

As we honor our country’s courageous veterans this month, Grumble Dog is taking a closer look at 8 incredible organizations that have made it their mission to pair loving dogs with our nation’s military heroes. 

Pups4Patriots

Connecting a therapy dog with a veteran is not an easy or expense-free endeavor, and roadblocks such as long waiting periods and steep training costs can halt the process. Pups4Patriots is dedicated to eradicating these obstacles by pairing rigorously trained shelter dogs with veterans, free of charge. 

Sponsored by American Humane, this program leads the way in the development of national training standards, with the end goal of maximizing the success these dogs have in treating veterans with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Pups4Patriots also offers hands-on training to help veterans bolster the bond they share with their new pup.

NEADS: World Class Service Dogs

Formerly known as National Education for Assistance Dog Services and Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, NEADS addresses the needs of veterans with permanent disabilities or debilitating hearing loss. The program provides fully-trained therapy dogs with zero charge to eligible veterans—even if their disability isn’t service related. 

NEADS dogs are trained to help with a variety of tasks, including:

  • Retrieving items
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Barking for help
  • Pushing automatic door buttons
  • Bracing their partner for added stability

If a veteran struggles with hearing loss, their canine counterpart can alert them to important sounds such as smoke detectors, alarm clocks, a ringing phone, or a knock at the door. 

United States Veterans Service Dogs

Navigating the path to a “new normal” is never easy for veterans suffering from mental and/or physical disabilities. United States Veterans Service Dogs is committed to mitigating the difficulty of this process by placing specially trained service dogs in the homes of veterans.

Looking for a life-changing, dog-related volunteer opportunity? This organization recruits responsible puppy raisers to teach good foundational behaviors to dogs from the age of eight weeks to 14-18 months. Prior experience is not required—all you need is the resolve to provide adequate socialization opportunities (plan for at least 1 outing per week) and basic obedience training. Resources, including a supportive community, are provided for puppy trainers to ensure success. 

Once all training is complete, puppy trainers are invited to attend a graduation ceremony where they present their former pupil to his new owner. 

Pets for Vets

Image by Greg Woods via Flickr

Pet ownership comes with a host of mental and physical health benefits, according to the CDC. Recognizing the power that the animal-human bond holds, Pet for Vets seeks to place companion animals with soldiers transitioning back to civilian life. It’s a win-win: the rescue pet is finally placed in a loving home, and the veteran receives unconditional love and support of an animal who will help ease the effects of stress, depression, and loneliness. 

Pets for Vets employs a unique strategy for placing shelter residents in loving forever homes. Their systematic “Super Bond” program rejects the one-size-fits-all approach in favor of a tested process that matches the right pet with the right person. After taking a close look at each applicant’s personality and lifestyle, Pets for Vets strives to find the dog that is best suited for him or her. This deliberate approach establishes a profound connection between the veteran and his canine partner.

Paws Assisting Veterans (PAVE)

Funded entirely by grants and donations, Paws Assisting Veterans is a nonprofit organization committed to bettering the lives of veterans by pairing them with highly trained service dogs. They aim to “pave” the way towards wellness for veterans suffering from PTSD and other ailments.  

PAVE therapy dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, depending on their recipient’s individual needs. They can learn how to retrieve objects, turn lights on and off, open and close doors, and even interrupt nightmares!

In addition to providing service dogs to veterans free of charge, Paws Assisting Veterans also promotes public knowledge of the important role that service dogs play in the treatment of veterans suffering from physical and mental disabilities. 

Next Step Service Dogs

Next Step Service Dogs has a broader scope of services than most of the organizations on this list. Not only do they provide well-trained service dogs to veterans in need, but they also work with active military personnel and first responders who are suffering from PTSD or TBI. 

This program assists participants in training their own dogs to perform helpful tasks. They also offer career opportunities to unemployed veterans by teaching them to train service dogs for fellow service members in need. 

Alpha Bravo Canine

This Philadelphia-based non-profit was founded by a mother and son team with experience in both dog training and the struggles of combat-related disabilities. Alarming suicide rates among veterans prompted the duo to launch Alpha Bravo Canine—an organization that puts trained service dogs into the homes of veterans suffering from physical or psychological issues.

Blue Star Service Dogs

In 2010, Blue Star Service Dogs was founded to promote the healing of veterans transitioning from military to civilian life. Their tagline says it all: “We Rescue One to Heal Another.” The organization gives qualified shelter dogs a second chance at life by training them to be service animals for veterans diagnosed with post-combat conditions.

By significantly reducing depression symptoms, Blue Star Service Dogs also decreases the need for meds, improves community integration, and gives veterans a greater sense of purpose. 

For service members trying to reenter civilian life, the road ahead can appear daunting and lonely. Companion animals can offer the motivation and support necessary to keep moving forward. If you love animals and you’re looking for a way to show your appreciation for our nation’s veterans, consider donating your time or money to one of these organizations.