This year, American Humane’s Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs launched a new initiative to harness the healing powers of the human-animal bond to help our brave veterans and more of America’s beautiful, adoptable animals. Every day, 20 veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of war take their own lives, and 670,000 dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters each year. Vast anecdotal evidence and a growing body of scientific research show that specialized PTS and TBI service dogs can offer life-changing—and often lifesaving—support to affected veterans. However, there are obstacles standing in the way for veterans in need of service dogs: Waiting lists are long and the training process is time-consuming and expensive, and can cost $30,000 per dog.
To help begin turning the tide of veteran suicide and save the lives of more adoptable animals facing an uncertain future, American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, announced the first graduating class of service dogs and retired warriors in its new national “Shelter to Service” program. The initiative rescues shelter dogs and specially trains them to become lifesaving service animals for military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). American Humane’s new canine training center provides specialized PTS and TBI service dogs to veterans in need, at no cost to the recipient.
American Humane introduced the first class of service dog graduates at the Hamptons, Long Island home of philanthropists Jewel and Robert Morris amid a sea of some 200 humanitarian and celebrity advocates for America’s veterans and animals, including country star and longtime supporter of the military Naomi Judd, actress and author Beth Stern, former PepsiCo Restaurants International CEO Tim Lane, New York City socialite Jean Shafiroff, and many others.
Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane, said: “As an organization that has worked for more than a century to help both these groups, American Humane was compelled to provide help and healing, and created a nationwide model based on our development of the country’s first national training standards to help ensure veterans an adequate quantity as well as quality of lifesaving service dogs.” Veterans now face wait times of a dangerously unacceptable 18- to 24-months.
“With 20 veterans committing suicide each day and PTSD cases continuing to increase at alarming rates in the veterans community, it is unconscionable that we have not been taking advantage of every possible mechanism to reverse this horrific tragedy,” said internationally renowned philanthropist and American Humane board member Lois Pope. “It is equally tragic that hundreds of thousands of dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. Given that it is well-known that dogs have an indelible connection with humans and have served as therapy and service companions for people with physical and emotional afflictions for so many years, the Shelter to Service initiative is a perfect solution to both problems. That is why I’m pleased that through the Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs, American Humane has pioneered and is taking the national lead on partnering veterans with shelter canines in order to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war.”
American Humane began working with the U.S. military more than 100 years ago when they deployed to the battlefields of World War I Europe to rescue more than 68,000 wounded war horses every month. Following World War II they advanced the field of animal-assisted therapy to help returning veterans cope with the invisible wounds of war, and aided children of military families during their parents’ deployments. Recently, they helped change the law to make sure we bring our military hero dogs home to U.S. soil when their service to our country is finished. They also work to reunite these four-footed warriors with their former handlers, and provide them with free specialized healthcare so they can enjoy the happy and healthy retirement they deserve. This newest initiative seeks to save the lives of more veterans, as well as those of abandoned, adoptable animals. Among the newly formed veterans and service dog teams in the first graduating class are:
John and Oliver
John was living in the Shanksville, Pennsylvania area when Flight 93 crashed there during the terror attacks on September 11. One of the first responders to the crash site, John enlisted in the Marines and deployed to Iraq, where he survived 21 IED explosions and fought in Operation Phantom Fury, considered the fiercest fight U.S. troops have faced since the Vietnam War. American Humane paired John with Oliver, a one-year-old male mixed breed who was surrendered by his owner to a shelter in Colorado. “I have friends who have benefited from a service dog, so I’m hopeful that Oliver will help me cope and adjust as well,” said John. “My dog will give me some company, instead of sitting in my house alone.”
Cassandra and Louie
Cassandra is a retired Army specialist who served with U.S. troops overseas in Kuwait for the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Shield. Louie is a one-and-a-half-year-old male Mountain Cur/Border Collie mix with beautiful tiger striping. He was picked up as a stray by animal control in Oklahoma, and was transferred to a shelter there. “When I think of receiving my service dog, the first thing that comes to mind is freedom,” said Cassandra. “Just that one word.”
Chris and Lex
Chris is an Army veteran who was part of the U.S. invasion of Iraq from the very beginning in 2003. He proudly calls military service “the family business.” American Humane is pairing him with Lex, a one-and-a-half-year-old male Labradoodle who was selected from an animal shelter located within a correctional institute in Louisiana where he was initially trained and socialized by inmates. “Getting my service dog has been a life changer,” said Chris. “I’ve gone in just a few days from being depressed to having a better outlook. It’s not an instant fix, but I’m already more positive these last few days. My dog gives me something positive to focus on instead of wallowing in my own pity.” And Chris’ 9-year-old daughter said her greatest hope is that the gift of this dog will “help get me my Dad back.”
American Humane’s Shelter to Service program has been made possible thanks to a wide range of committed supporters and generous sponsors, including, among many others, The Lois Pope LIFE Foundation, Zoetis, Hallmark Channel, NCR Foundation, Banfield Foundation, Adtalem Foundation, Kriser’s Natural Pet, Matt Martin Foundation, Door Automation Corp., Kyrus Charities, Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, The Philly Pack, Monster Energy, Marta Heflin Foundation, Red River Charitable Foundation, Nora Roberts Family Foundation, All About Dogs, LLC, and Merck Animal Health. American Humane is grateful to all of them. Without their support, this program would not be possible.
“I am so pleased to be supporting their newest effort to save America’s vets and America’s pets by pairing our retired warriors with trained service dogs who are themselves rescues from shelters,” said country singer, longtime military supporter, and American Humane board member Naomi Judd. “In this way, we can save lives on both ends of one healing leash.”