National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
Operation: Hero-Animal Bond
Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that having a companion dog around is beneficial for both Veterans and dogs. Dr. Heidi Ortmeyer, a research physiologist at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, demonstrated that older Veterans experience positive health benefits when fostering companion dogs.
The research offers some clues how VHA can support Veterans’ healthy aging, promote the importance of physical activity, and offer solutions to reduce loneliness within the Veteran community. The human-animal bond can contribute to all three endeavors—that’s the mutual beneficial relationship between people and companion dogs.
The study, published in February 2020, found that while a foster dog and its caregiver were in close physical proximity:
- Stress levels decreased for both the dog and the Veteran;
- Overall health increased for both the dog and the Veteran; and
- Daily activity had a positive impact on quality of life.
“For Veterans who want a dog in their life, choosing to foster a dog could be a win-win,” said Dr. Ortmeyer. “This study found that companion dogs can have a positive impact in our lives and that we can have a positive impact in theirs.”
VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) manages numerous partnerships with organizations across the country to help support Veteran health through interactions with animals, including one with the Humane Society of the United States called Operation Hero-Animal Bond. The partnership was created in 2017 and pairs Veterans with rescue animals in addition to encouraging Veterans to consider fostering and pet ownership.
Another VHA partnership managed by OCE is with Pet Partners. VHA and Pet Partners work together to support Veterans’ well-being and social engagement through animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. In April and June 2020, VHA and Pet Partners offered free webinars that shared tips with volunteer animal handlers on interacting with Veterans during volunteers’ visits to VHA medical centers. These visits to VHA locations provide patients the sense of connection, comfort, and joy that comes from spending time with animals.
OCE’s next quarterly newsletter, which was published in July, features first-person stories from Veterans who have fostered or adopted animals.
To learn more about OCE, visit https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/.
Posted August 27, 2020