Program helps vets, shelter pets rescue each other

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A central Indiana program is the only one of its kind in the state offering a unique resource for veterans returning home with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

Since the Humane Society of Hamilton County launched “Pets Healing Vets” in 2012, shelter workers have helped carefully pair more than two dozen Indiana veterans with adoptable dogs or cats.

The adoptions are free to qualifying veterans with medical proof of diagnosis. The program includes post-adoption support financially including immunizations and food for the animal if required, shelter director Rebecca Stevens said.

“From the shelter dog perspective, many of them feel forgotten and under appreciated and broken and a lot of these veterans feel the same way and so by bringing them together, there’s this innate understanding that’s unspoken. That’s just not something (a veteran) can get anywhere else,” Stevens said.

To Marine Corporal Justin Growden, an 8-year old pit bull named Princess became not only a companion but a life-changer.

The former combat engineer was referred to Pets Healing Vets after returning from a nine month deployment in Afghanistan with issues of depression and anxiety related to PTSD and a TBI.

Growden adopted Princess who held the Hamilton County center’s record for time lived in the shelter.

“It gives you a new sense of responsibility which you kind of miss being out of the military. It adds a new aspect to your life and really helps out I can’t really explain it. It’s a lot. Helps a lot,” Growden said. “My symptoms have gotten better since I’ve had Princess. It comes and goes and they say (symptoms will persist) probably your whole life. With treatment and therapy and everything else, you just keep working through it; don’t give up.”