Pets Healing Vets Program

Healing Those Who Are Hurting

Who Rescued Whom

An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day while approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized in shelters every year. These alarming statistics prompted us to make it our mission to improve the emotional well-being of Hoosier veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by pairing them with carefully selected shelter animals in need of homes.
Ours is the only program of its kind in the state of Indiana that removes a barrier to companion pet ownership many veterans find themselves challenged with — COST.

Program at a Glance

What it is.

Our program pairs shelter dogs and cats with qualifying Hoosier veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury at no cost to the veteran–for the life of the pet if that’s what it takes!

Who it helps.

This program is vital and in many cases, life saving for both the veteran and the pet. These animals become constant companions for veterans in the program, a healing balm for the wounds no one can see.

Why it matters.

The health benefits & emotional support pets provide those suffering from depression and anxiety are undeniable. With 22 veterans committing suicide every day, and thousands of animals in need of hearts to heal,  Pets Healing Vets is a bridge to help both.

How you can help.

Urge veterans in your life who need help, to get help.  Pets Healing Vets is fully funded by the Humane Society for Hamilton County, so your tax-deductible donations are critical.

THE STATS
ARE STAGGERING

Help ensure your loved one doesn’t become a statistic. According to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20 out of every 100 veterans suffer from PTSD. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has consistently reported tens of thousands of new diagnoses of TBI each year since it began reporting in 2000. Additionally, veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than civilians.
We’d like to do our part to change these statistics – and Pets Healing Vets is designed to do just that.

22

Military veterans commit
suicide every day

500000

Veterans currently
suffer from PTSD

414000

Veterans have been
diagnosed with TBI

  • 1.

    Yozanda & Penelope

    Penelope was the missing piece of Yozanda’s puzzle. Not only is Penelope a loyal companion and in tune with Yozanda when she needs comfort, Yozanda says, “Penelope and I sort of saved each other. She gives me the motivation to get out of bed and do things. It is remarkable that we found each other when we did. I don’t know if I would have made it through quarantine without her!”

  • 2.

    John & Jameson

    John was an Army Reconnaissance Specialist from 2000-2007. While overseas, he encountered multiple IED blasts which resulted in TBI and PTSD.

    “I really didn’t have anybody or anything when I got out in 2007, outside of my VA counselors and one of them recommended I should think about getting a dog.” John ended up at HSHC and found Cleo who, for 7 years, was with John “and helped [him] move forward through a lot of things.” When Cleo passed, John came back to HSHC and found Jameson through the Pets Healing Vets program.

    “He was going to allow me to be able to be comfortable outside and around people, and I would be able to be comfortable for him when he was outside and around people. [Pets Healing Vets] allows both of us to continue moving forward.”

  • 3.

    Greg & Patton

    Greg Sexton, an Army Reserves Staff Sergeant from Noblesville, was severely injured in an explosion while serving in Iraq. He also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sexton got Patton, a black labrador retriever, through the Pets Healing Vets program. He said the emotional support and comfort she provides has been a “huge help” in his day-to-day life with PTSD.

  • 4.

    Kevin & Boston

    Kevin served three years in the Army during the Iranian crisis. Though he didn’t see combat, the experience — paired with a troubling childhood — caused Kevin to experience severe PTSD. Substance abuse followed, and eventually he decided enough was enough.

    He went to rehab and heard about Pets Healing Vets during the program. When he met Boston, he had the help (and reason) he needed to stay sober. “It’s a joy to come home from work and find him here,” Kevin says. “He’s pretty much my whole life right now.” When he looks at Boston’s face, “it’s like he needs me as much as I need him.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is your mission?

To help rehabilitate veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by pairing them up with a carefully selected shelter dog or cat in need of a home.

Are the pets specially trained, certified service animals?

Pets Healing Vets provides shelter animals as companion animals – not service animals.

Every dog receives professional training before heading home.

To ensure a successful, long-term pairing, our behavior team will also provide free training and ongoing behavior counseling as needed for the life of the pet.

Who is eligible for the program?

Honorably discharged Hoosier veterans seeking treatment for their diagnosis of PTSD or TBI. Veterans must have a written recommendation from a licensed healthcare professional that they would benefit from participation in the Pets Healing Vets Program based on their diagnosis and are capable of caring for a pet.

Will I automatically be accepted if I apply?

After applying to the program, HSHC staff will contact you regarding your application.

HSHC reserves the right to deny any applicant if deemed in the best interest of the applicant or our shelter animals.

Participants in the Pets Healing Vets program are subject to shelter adoption policies and procedures.

Is there any financial assistance available?

Our program is so unique from other similar companion animal/veteran pairing programs, because we have removed the barrier that often faces these veterans when it comes to owning a pet in the first place – COST.

HSHC is proud to offer this free program to qualifying Hoosier veterans. This includes vaccines, medications, preventatives, supplies, food and any other necessities for the LIFE OF THE PET.

And as funds permit, our program will also cover the cost of even extraordinary medical care.

Does it really work?

The healing power of pets is undeniable. Programs like Pets Healing Vets are operating around the country with great success. Program facilitators have found that veterans often relate to shelter animals who are themselves often misunderstood and dealing with anxieties associated with fear and abuse.

The comfort of knowing a loyal dog is there to make them feel safe, an adoring feline companion waits at home, or just having a living being who is depending on them can make all the difference in the recovery process…and even save a life.

Read New York Times article on the topic

See a TIME video on the topic

Who can I contact with questions?

Jennifer Hatcher, Community Outreach Manager
outreach@hamiltonhumane.com
(317) 219-4630

The Story Behind Pets Healing Vets

His Service

On August 24th, 2003, Justin Morseth returned from Iraq with the 3rd ID out of Georgia. As an Infantry Captain and Bradley Platoon Leader, Justin was on the “front lines” during the Invasion. As such, what he witnessed and experienced was often excruciating and brutal.

He weathered the war without injury and with the honor of two Bronze Stars, one with Combat Valor, a notable distinction. It seemed that he had somehow miraculously escaped the worst consequences of battle. But it didn’t take long for the invisible wounds to start surfacing – a knife carried to the bathroom at night, a desperate anxiety in traffic, a genuine distrust of strangers.

Returning to Civilian Life

Justin_SamsonAt the time of his return, Behavioral Health at Ft. Stewart was overwhelmed. Though efforts were made to seek help, the waiting lists were long. One night, Justin awoke still in the grips of a nightmare. Frantic and barely able to breathe, their dog, a rescued Husky named Samson, crawled up on Justin’s chest. Whether it was the fur-to-skin, or Samson’s rhythmic breathing, it broke through the fear and eased Justin back to reality: he was safe at home.

Justin was Honorably Discharged soon thereafter. Life as a civilian was a tough transition. But runs with Samson, and his heavy weight at the end of the bed offered a calming constant. Samson and Justin were battle buddies of a different kind. Rather than looking out for the dangers of unexpected attack, Samson kept watch for sudden panic and always helped Justin dodge the proverbial accompanying bullet.

The War at Home

In 2006, Justin and his wife Megan had a son Sander. While most first-time fathers feel joy in holding their child, Justin was tortured with a memory that had managed to hide itself for years. In an instant, he was transported back to one of his worst days in Iraq, and with no Samson nearby to offer reprieve, a flip switched. No one knew right away…but when Justin moved to Indiana not long after, leaving his family (and Samson) behind to sell the house, that memory and so many others, boiled fiercely to the surface.

Numerous attempts at help either went unanswered, or Justin was simply offered a cursory appointment and a quickly written prescription. His job in the trauma field offered just enough adrenaline to tap into the part of his brain that still functioned precisely and systematically, so perhaps that gave the erroneous impression that all was well.

In fact, it wasn’t until a near-tragic turn of events that Justin finally received the adequate and intensive help needed. It was no surprise to learn Justin had PTSD. What was a shock, seven years after his return from Iraq, was his diagnosis of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). He was also told that his damaged brain didn’t function well with psychiatric medication, and that such a thing isn’t uncommon with TBI or PTSD.

He’d been given seven different medications in as many years for anxiety, sleep issues and depression. The side effects were much of the reason for his worsening PTSD.

At the old age of 14, Samson passed away. Gratefully, Justin had been off his medications long enough for his disorientated brain to begin to follow a steady course. And his new, intensive therapy was breaking through the chaos of his PTSD.

None-the-less, the loss was tough, and it definitely hit hard. While Justin was no-doubt stable, so much was still missing: his easy laugh, his sense of humor, true joy. Samson had certainly helped save Justin’s life. But there was work still to do. Everyone was devastated.

A Hope to Live Again

In leapt Lucy, a 9-week old Lab/Mastiff mix. Adopted from Luv-A-Dog Rescue out of Indianapolis, Lucy was a ball of sweet energy. Absolutely everything was a wonder to her. The puff of a Dandelion elicited absolute bliss. The running legs of Justin’s now 5-year-old son, and two-year-old daughter sent her into a relentless chase. The bounce of a Kong toy practically made her apoplectic.

In short: she never stopped moving. And in her goofy tumbles down the stair to the patio, and her barking like mad at her reflection, Justin started to notice the humor in life, too.

Along side her end-of-the day worn-out and snoring body, Justin found a peaceful place to fall asleep. And as the months passed, teaching and training her cemented a connection between the two of them that is unmistakable.

Lucy follows him everywhere when he is home. She crisscrosses the yard right beside him when he mows. And she pushes her soft head under his hand when she senses even small spikes of anxiety.

Samson kept Justin afloat when he was so close to sinking. Lucy came in to push away all the debris once the storm had passed. They are each brave and heroic in their own right. No doubt, the rescue went both ways.

Paying It Forward

Megan saw the healing power of pets to comfort, connect and pull someone back from the edge first-hand. She contacted over 50 animal welfare organizations throughout Indiana to see if one would be interested in establishing a program to support veterans like Justin in need of an emotional support animal. Only one organization responded to Megan…and the rest is history.

Program Sponsors

Why Support Pets Healing Vets?

Donor Testimonial

“As we looked at where we would donate I look at three things, we want to impact our community, where we feel might be underserved, and where it’s something that’s meaningful to us. Pets Healing Vets hits all of those points for us. I can’t imagine the sacrifices that our troops make to protect us and I hate that they are often forgotten and struggle when returning home. Providing them with animals from your shelter is such an amazing and logical marriage and I also know that funds will go directly to this effort.” – Joe Quick, Supporter

  • Now, I have someone to take care of me. She’s my new best friend.

    George Pedigo, Veteran

  • Providing vets with animals from your shelter is such an amazing and logical marriage.

    Joe Quick, Supporter

  • Samson kept my husband Justin afloat when he was so close to sinking.

    Megan Morseth, Program Co-Founder

Healing Power of Paws

Although there are similar programs throughout the country, Pets Healing Vets is the only program of its kind in Indiana– and the only one we have found in the country– that not only waives an adoption fee and covers the cost of training, but will also cover all expenses of pet ownership for the life of the pet if necessary. Pets Healing Vets is a proven means of rehabilitating veterans from the often traumatic aftermath of combat. We salute the men, women, and canines who watch over us at home and abroad.

Love & Let Live

Every animal deserves a second chance at love — and life. We invite you to be part of the solution and give back to the animals who give us so much.