A Vietnam veteran and retired Marine, George Holy knows what it’s like to feel isolated. Nowadays, the Middle River resident suffers with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and isn’t as active as he used to be.
Holy, 70, says many of his friends have passed away. “I hate to read the newspapers anymore because I’ll see that somebody else I knew is gone,” he says.
But Abby helps fill the void, says Holy. Abby is a German Shepherd Labrador mix he adopted about three years ago through a program called Pets for Patriots.
Pets for Patriots is a nonprofit founded in 2009 by Beth Zimmerman, a Long Island resident who had a vision to find a solution for animal homelessness while helping military veterans.
Pets for Patriots partners with animal shelters that make special offers to veterans who adopt. Holy adopted Abby from the Baltimore Humane Society, which eliminates adoption fees entirely for service members and retirees.
Pets for Patriots requires adopters to choose either large dogs (weighing at least 40 pounds), older animals (cats or dogs that are at least 2), or pets with special medical or other needs. That’s because these are animals often overlooked by other adopters.
After the adoption, Pets for Patriots provides support, including a $150 gift card, for essentials like pet food and supplies, access to a members-only website for discounts, and an opportunity for reduced fees from participating veterinarians.
Holy can’t say enough about Pets for Patriots and the role Abby plays in his life. She’s his friend and companion, “one of the best listeners I have,” he says.
Chris Dubay is a U.S. Navy veteran who also adopted from the Baltimore Humane Society through Pets for Patriots. His dog, Ed, is a pit bull mix with a soft black coat, brown soulful eyes, tons of energy and an insatiable appetite for treats.
“When he wants attention, he’ll get up on my knees, stare at me and start licking me like crazy,” says Dubay.
According to Pet for Patriots’ website, one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from major depression, increasing their risk of suicide. Zimmerman says veterans coping with depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or anxiety tend to isolate themselves.
Pets not only offer comfort and companionship, she says, but “force vets into a routine where they have to engage with the outside world in a healthy, positive way.”
Adopted pets are also a source of love and support for children and other family members, especially those coping with the absence of a deployed loved one. For animal shelters, Pets for Patriots is one more service they can provide to increase adoptions.
Says Wendy Goldband, marketing director of the Baltimore Humane Society: “Working with Pets for Patriots, the Baltimore Humane Society provides the most overlooked homeless dogs and cats a second chance at a happy life while giving local veterans, active-duty military and their families the gift of unconditional friendship and love.
“It’s a wonderful program that’s a win-win … for everyone.”
But it’s more than just friendship and love. These adopted animals also give new purpose to veterans’ lives. “Vets understand they’re giving the animal therapy as much as the animal is giving it to them,” says Zimmerman.
For information, visit petsforpatriots.org or call toll free 877-473-8223.
Dog Scouts of America encourages canine fellowship and outreach.
By Deborah Stone, Photo by Evan Cohen
They say dogs are man’s best friend. To know that’s true, you need only meet Kris Thomas and her dog, Kevin.
Thomas, 68, adopted Kevin from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter nine years ago when he was just a puppy. Together, they’ve embarked on an amazing adventure.
She and Kevin joined an organization called Dog Scouts of America, a canine version of the Boy or Girl Scouts. It offers badges when dogs complete different activities or achieve new skills.
“To improve the lives of dogs, their owners, and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement,” is
Kevin’s Dog Scouts uniform (a dog jacket) is adorned with badges, including ones for agility, water retrieving, canine first aid, fitness and community service. He’s a heavyweight in that latter category, having completed over 1,000 community service hours.
Some of that time is spent at the Ronald McDonald House, where twice a month an announcement heralds Kris and Kevin’s arrival. Whole families greet this calm, loving dog. Parents’ expressions soften as their children smile
Some here, like 21-year-old Alex LaBrague, have stayed at the house many times. LaBrague knows Kevin well, and Kevin knows him.
On a recent night, LaBrague entered the room with an IV pole in tow, wearing a surgical mask. The mask didn’t confuse Kevin for a second. His tail went into high-wagging gear. After greeting each other, the two sat quietly on the floor, LaBrague stroking Kevin’s back.
LaBrague’s mom, Karen, looked on. “He had a really rough day today,” she said. “Knowing that Kevin is coming just makes him feel better. It fuels him to spend time with him and get that love.”
LaBrague misses his dogs back home. “It makes me happy to pet a dog when I can’t pet mine,” he said.
For Thomas, these visits are personal. About four years ago, she was recovering from an injury in a rehab facility and missing Kevin terribly. A Pets on Wheels volunteer paid her a visit, and Thomas was so happy to see the dog, she started to cry. She said she knew she wanted to do more community service work with Kevin upon recovering.
In addition to community service, Dog Scouts has given Thomas a chance to do things she never thought she would.
“They had a new badge for stand-up paddle board. We got that badge. It was a lot easier for Kevin than it was for me!” she laughed.
For information, visit http://dogscouts.org/base/
Deborah Stone is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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