Helping vets find pets: SPCA partners with nonprofit

By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM | News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 12, 2016

GREENSBORO (Tribune News Service) — Veterans can now adopt a furry friend at a discount from the SPCA of the Triad, due to a new partnership with a national nonprofit that helps military members find their animal match.

The shelter -- a low-volume, no-kill facility in Greensboro -- partnered with Pets for Patriots about a month ago, according to Brenda Overman, director of SPCA of the Triad. Overman, whose brother served in the Vietnam War, had witnessed firsthand the comfort a pet can provide.

"My brother was just very attached to his dog, and I thought, 'So many veterans could benefit from this,' " she said. "Pets just love you no matter what's wrong, or what problems you might have."

As a Pets for Patriots partner, the SPCA will offer eligible veterans a 20 percent discount on adoption fees for cats and dogs, plus a 10 percent lifetime discount on veterinary services through Dr. Janine Oliver at Benessere Animal Hospital in Greensboro.

Shelters don't have to offer a discount on the adoption fee, according to Beth Zimmerman, founder and executive director of Pets for Patriots. But the nonprofit requires the discount on veterinary care to help ensure that veterans can afford to keep their pets for the duration of their lives.

"We have many low-income and elderly veterans who tell us that the discount helps accomplish our goal, which is to not just help them adopt that pet, but keep that pet," she said. "What we're really about is not just pet adoption, but trying to prevent pet surrender because of financial hardship."

Pets for Patriots does not provide service animals. Service animals are highly trained to assist with specific medical or emotional disabilities, but veterans with mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression can reap wellness benefits simply by adopting a companion pet from a shelter or rescue.

"We have many veterans in our program living with substance abuse, depression and a range of other psychological issues, many of whom may have been prescribed a service animal," Zimmerman said. "And when we talk to them to see what specific task they're looking for the animal to perform, in most cases, it's the same benefits a companion animal can deliver. We have a very strong belief that companion animals have natural therapeutic qualities."

Science backs up those beliefs. Multiple studies have touted the benefits of pet ownership, and researchers have found that owning a dog or a cat reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure and increases overall emotional well-being, among other things.

That said, some veterans do need and qualify for service animals. In those instances, Pets for Patriots will refer applicants to organizations that can help match them with one.

Men and women at all stages of their military careers -- and from all eras, from World War II through today -- are eligible to participate in the Pets for Patriots program, though if an individual has been discharged from the military, it must be an honorable discharge. Eligible animals must be at least 2 years old, or be classified as "special needs," or be a dog that weighs at least 40 pounds.
The SPCA of the Triad hasn't adopted an animal to a Pets for Patriots veteran yet, and Overman isn't sure how many service members have visited the shelter in the past.

"Most people don't just bring up the fact that they're a veteran, so most of the time, we just don't know," Overman said. "Hopefully, once the news gets out, we'll have a lot come in."