Home front buddies: Program offers free homeless pets to veterans
By Kathy Antoniotti | Akron Beacon Journal | Published: August 5, 2014
AKRON, Ohio — With the aid of a cane, Rick Eggers slowly crossed the parking lot of a county veterans service office.
It was his first visit to the agency. He came seeking assistance.
Instead, it was the Navy veteran who ended up giving aid.
Eggers, 59, of Stow, Ohio, didn’t get to the front door before he was blindsided by two brown eyes in a face that silently beseeched the vet to stop and give his ears a “scritch.”
“I’ve gone five years without a dog,” Eggers ruefully admitted as he spoke with county animal control pound keeper Fran Kline as she held the leash of an American bulldog mix named Clyde who was looking for a home.
The gentle dog, estimated to be between 5 and 6 years old, was found wandering the streets in May and has been living in a cage at a shelter ever since, said J.J. Bahr, a pound keeper who accompanied six shelter animals on the outing to the veterans office recently to meet veterans.
“Somebody cared about him enough to get him neutered,” said Bahr. The white and black bulldog had been taught some manners as well as a few commands, the handlers said.
The agency is teaming with the animal control office to pair vets and homeless animals in a program sponsored by a nonprofit called Pay It Forward for Pets. The group is funding the program to bring vets and pets together at no cost to veterans, said Georjette Thomas, founder and director of organization advancement.
The program, Pets for Vets ... No Buddy Left Behind, is one of the funds dear to the heart of her organization, said Thomas.
“It doesn’t leave a pet behind and it doesn’t leave a vet behind,” she said.
More than 60 veterans visit the service office each day seeking help to make the transition from military to civilian life, said project manager David Burden.
“When the county shelter and Georjette called, I thought this would be a great way to help our older veterans,” said Burden.
Service dog programs are available to help combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, but the dogs are quite costly.
“It’s a proven theory that it helps. It can be a great partnership,” Burden said.
Not all vets suffer from PTSD, but many could benefit from a relationship with a four-legged friend, said Thomas.
“Pets can give our veterans purpose, motivate them, give them something to care for and offer unconditional love,” Thomas said.
Craig Stanley, an administrator for the county, volunteered as a dog handler at a recent event to pair pets and vets.
He said the county was enthusiastic when Thomas approached officials several weeks ago with the idea to help get the homeless cats and dogs living at an area shelter adopted by folks who need them.
“We are fortunate in this community to have good relationships with our rescue groups, and we are behind them 100 percent, ” Stanley said.
Pay It Forward for Pets is using grant money to pay the adoption fees for as many as 40 cats and dogs plus an $18 license fee for dogs living at the county shelter, Thomas said.
No Buddy Left Behind is an extension of the nonprofit’s program to help bring one pet each year home from overseas with a returning local soldier.
“Pets serve as a family member that gives them comfort and peace while they are stationed overseas. If someone is so connected to an animal they can’t bear to leave it, we want to bring that pet home,” she said.
But on that recent morning as a reluctant Rick Eggers went inside the veterans office to conduct his business, he worried Clyde might be snapped up by another vet. He asked Kline to keep Clyde for a while and give him a half hour to make a final decision.
The resolute veteran emerged from the office a short time later, filled out Clyde’s adoption forms, got his rabies and license tags and the two headed home.
Jeorjette Thomas, right, director of advancement for the non-profit Pay It Forward For Pets, pets Clyde, a 5-year-old male American bulldog/boxer mix that is being adopted by Navy veteran Rick Eggers, during an adoption event at Summit County Veterans Services on Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Akron, Ohio. The agency partnered with the Summit County Animal Control shelter to pair veterans with homeless animals in a program sponsored by Pay It Forward For Pets.
Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal/MCT