The bond between humans and animals is undeniable. We know that pets quickly become members of the family, and we have seen pets help Veterans and others progress along their path to healing. Research has shown that this bond is beneficial to the health and well-being of both. During National Pet Month and beyond, VA is working with multiple pet organizations to ensure that Veterans experiencing homelessness or housing instability have the support that they need to keep their pets healthy, safe and well cared for.
Keeping pets and Veterans together
Feeding Pets of the Homeless began its partnership with VA in 2015 to provide food and emergency veterinary care to pets that belong to Veterans experiencing homelessness. Since then, the organization has helped 163 pets of Veterans through its four unique programs:
- Pet Food Donation Sites. A partnership with communities and donation sites across 28 states collects pet food and supplies to distribute to Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
- Emergency Care Program. Veterans enrolled in the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program can qualify for emergency care for their pet that covers the cost of vaccinations and other needed treatments. Additionally, Veterans who are not enrolled in HUD-VASH, but who are experiencing homelessness, also qualify for care.
- Wellness Clinics. In partnership with veterinarians, this program offers free clinics across the country at food pantries that serve people experiencing homelessness.
- Pet Crates. Metal, collapsible crates are donated to homeless shelters so that owners do not have to abandon their pets when they stay at the shelter.
David, a disabled Iraq War Veteran experiencing homelessness, needed immediate medical care for his service dog, Girley, who had been diagnosed with pancreatitis and kidney failure. He turned to Feeding Pets of the Homeless to save Girley’s life.
Pets are family, even for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
“I cannot express my gratitude to Feeding Pets of the Homeless, as not only were they the only organization that responded, but their quick and decisive action saved my service animal, who is more like my child,” said David. “But also, they saved me, as I cannot tell anyone who has not experienced the feeling of helplessness when your beloved friend is so sick.”
Veterans and their pets helping Veterans
In 2019, Pet Partners began partnering with VA to improve Veterans’ health, quality of life and social engagement through animal-assisted interventions. The organization’s collaboration with VA supports and encourages VA medical centers to establish and expand therapy animal visitation programs to give patients the sense of connection, comfort and joy that comes from spending time with animals.
Relying largely on volunteers, Pet Partners operates in all 50 states, providing Veterans across the country an opportunity to benefit from animal therapy – and to create their own therapy animal teams to assist fellow Veterans.
“I am married to a disabled Veteran and he has benefited from the presence of therapy animals,” said Elisabeth Van Every, senior communications specialist at Pet Partners. “So I’ve seen personally and professionally how the human-animal bond can improve the wellness and health of Veterans.”
Although dogs are the most popular therapy animal, Pet Partners registers eight additional types of therapy animals: cats, equines (miniature horses and donkeys), domesticated rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds and miniature pigs.
There are several ways to support Pet Partners’ mission to help Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“We are always interested in new therapy animal teams joining our team, and we’re particularly interested in having Veterans with pets join this work and serve other Veterans,” said Van Every. “The more teams that we have, the more people that we can serve.”
For more information:
- Veterans looking for pet support are encouraged to contact Feeding Pets of the Homeless at 775- 841-7463 or to visit petsofthehomeless.org.
- For more information about Pet Partners, visit petpartners.org.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
- Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Heather Monroe, LCSW, LCAS is a community engagement detail representative with the VHA Homeless Programs Office.