Hi Tor Animal Care Center & Joseph P. Dwyer/BRIDGES Will Team Up To Match Veterans And Pets

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Pets For Vets Program Rolls Out In September With Help Of A $20,000 Grant


Two Rockland County nonprofits are joining ranks to make life better for two vulnerable populations: military veterans and shelter animals.

Pets for Vets, a joint effort by Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona and Joseph P. Dwyer Peer To Peer Support Services/BRIDGES in West Nyack, plans to match dogs and cats with military veterans to serve as companion animals. By all accounts, animals improve most people’s lives, especially those who experience hypervigilance, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And shelter animals impacted by rejection, abandonment, and institutional life, have also suffered, but thrive when they find their “forever” person.

The joint effort will be geared to finding the right match, with guidance and financial assistance for the first year.

Pets tend to make just about anybody happy but taking home a cat or dog is a serious commitment. Utilizing a $20,000 grant for year one, Hi Tor will work with Joseph P. Dwyer/BRIDGES to select the right cat or dog and match the pet with the right veteran. The flexible program is structured in such a way that Vets can foster or adopt – and they can return the animal to Hi Tor if the arrangement is not successful. Hi Tor will provide up to $1,000 per dog and $500 per cat for a year to cover food, supplies and veterinary care, as needed.

“Many of the veterans we assist are in their 70s, some are widowed,” said Mark Woods, Jr., Director of Joseph P Dwyer Peer To Peer Support Services at BRIDGES. “There are a lot of lonely veterans, and it breaks my heart to see animals in the shelter. So this is a homerun for the animal community and the veteran community.”

The Rockland County PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program is operated through BRIDGES and supported by the Rockland County Department of Mental Health and Rockland County Veteran Service Agency. Named to honor the memory of an Iraq war hero from Mount Sinai, NY, the Dwyer Program provides Vet-to-Vet support among Veterans who experience PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The free program is available to veterans, members of the Armed Forces, Guard, and Reserves and their families regardless of service dates, discharge status or dependency status.

Medical experts say having a dog can help suppress unwanted symptoms of PTSD, such as hypervigilance, agitation, and restlessness. It can also help decrease emotional numbness, through the development of bonding relationships. Pets can even help bring the veteran back to the present during a flashback just by moving, barking, or nudging with a paw, experts believe.

The goal of the Pets for Vets program is to create comfort and partnership between owner and animal. Hi Tor will use a thorough interview process to ensure the needs of the veteran are met and that the animal is well-suited for the transition from shelter to a new home. Shelter staff will screen applicants, contact landlords, veterinarians (if applicable) and personal references.

Hi Tor will cover the cost of necessary medical and emergency care for the first year. The shelter will facilitate medical appointments for non-emergency issues and arrange for emergency veterinary care with a local 24-hour emergency facility. Microchipping animals will be mandatory.

The animal shelter is willing to take back or exchange an animal if the relationship isn’t thriving.

“The current management team at Hi Tor recognizes the power of collaborating with local organizations like BRIDGES , and working together with our non-profit partners to better serve our community,” said Maryann Goldman, coordinator of special projects at Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona. “The Pets for Vets program will not only allow us to find homes for more animals in need but harnesses the powerful resource of our Rockland County veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving, and who deserve the love, companionship, and gratitude of a rescue dog or cat to join their family as a companion animal.”

Numerous studies support the benefits of having a pet around. Most suggest that stress levels decrease while performing difficult tasks if you have a furry friend by your side. The CDC suggests owning a dog can lower your blood pressure, particularly for those with high-risk hypertensive conditions, which can be caused by stress. Having a dog brings you outdoors more frequently, offering exercise that’s good for the heart and for lowering blood pressure. It’s also been said that people who own pets, in particular men, have lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than those without pets.

A study from the American Stroke Association found that owning a cat makes you 30 percent less likely to develop a stroke. In the study, 4,435 participants were followed and after taking account of factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure, half of the participants that owned cats were less likely to develop strokes.

Woods also mentioned the high rate of veteran suicide.

“Having an animal gives someone a sense of purpose,” said Woods. “An animal needs you. It might slow down someone who is thinking about suicide.”

Joseph P. Dwyer /BRIDGES plans to roll out the program at its September 8 monthly meeting at Zukor Park. A representative from Hi Tor will be at the event to introduce the shelter, and some shelter animals, and to field questions.

The Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program is named in honor of Joseph P. Dwyer, a US Army Medic in the Iraq War who, in the earliest days of the invasion in 2003, was pictured cradling a wounded boy while his unit was fighting its way up the Euphrates to Baghdad. Dwyer’s post-war struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulted in his untimely and tragic death in 2008.