As awareness grows of the psychological benefits of pairing ailing military veterans with adopted animals, PetSmart has launched an initiative to make service dogs more widely available to any vet seeking a canine companion. Called PetSmart for Patriots, the program will offer the dogs to veterans free of charge.
“In the next 6-12 months, veterans with disabilities will be able to visit any PetSmart store and learn about Canine Companions and what they need to do to get their own assistance dog,” according to a PetSmart press release. It also noted that “veterans with a wide array of physical disabilities, including non-visible injuries, may qualify to receive highly trained assistance dogs completely free of charge.”
The goal, says PetSmart, is to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life. ”It’s not normal for service mean and women today to say they need help,” Bruce Thorn, a PetSmart Vice president told CNN. ”To be able to have a service dog who loves you unconditionally and is able to help you live a better life, is priceless,” he added in a statement.
The pet supply store has partnered with Canine Companions for Independence — a non-profit that already pairs dogs with men and women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and suffered from spinal cord injuries, limp amputations and deafness, among other injuries — to offer the service.
Veterans Affairs already provides service dogs to many wounded veterans and even pays for the dogs’ health bills. But anecdotal evidence has shown that many veterans who haven’t suffered from physical injuries but who exhibit symptoms of PTSD could also benefit from the help of pups who can help guide them back into day-to-day life at home.