Operation: Hero-Animal Bond - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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Operation: Hero-Animal Bond

Salute to the Human-Animal Bond 

Veterans, volunteerism, and animal welfare take center stage at the 2018 Animal Care Expo

Staff from the VHA Office of Community Engagement, MoKan Pet Partners and the U.S. Humane Society presented a workshop on the importance of the human-animal bond at the Animal Expo, the largest annual gathering of animal welfare professionals in the United States.
Staff from the VHA Office of Community Engagement, MoKan Pet Partners and the U.S. Humane Society presented a workshop on the importance of the human-animal bond at the Animal Expo, the largest  annual gathering of animal welfare professionals in the United States.

Nearly 150 people gathered to learn about how adopting and fostering companion animals and volunteering at shelters and rescues better the lives of Veterans, but it was really Suzi Q who stole the show. The female St. Bernard mix was there with her owner, Mr. John LaRoe, President of Mo-Kan Pet Partners, to participate in the annual Animal Care Expo. Suzi Q and LaRoe visit Veterans at the Kansas City VA Medical Center to provide animal therapy, comfort and companionship.

Dr. Heidi Ortmeyer, Ph.D., VA Research Physiologist and Executive Director of Eskie Rescuers United; Amy Nichols, Vice President Companion Animals at the Humane Society of the United States; Heather Luper, LCSW-C, and Dr. Jamie Davis, Ph.D., of VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE) presented on the importance of developing partnerships between local VAs and animal rescues and shelters. These partnerships encourage Veteran volunteerism at animal rescues and shelters, introduce animal-assisted activity programs to VA Medical Centers (VAMC), and support Veterans’ health and well-being through fostering and adopting pets.

“In our work, we wanted to find a way to help both Veterans and dogs,” Dr. Ortmeyer said. She is the primary investigator in a pilot study to evaluate the effects companion rescue dogs have on Veterans’ health based on non-invasive measures such as heart rate. A Veteran who participated in the study said of his experience, “Caesar is a great companion dog. He keeps me busy and active. He’s someone to watch out after you, and you look out for them. I would recommend this program to all Veterans.”

Another Veteran, who is a part of the adoption program Dr. Ortmeyer oversees, noted that he used to have no desire to get up in the mornings. Now, his dog Sophie licks his face until he gets out of bed to start the day. “Sophie has changed my life from the moment I met her. Instead of being too anxious to go out in public I get excited to take her out.” the Veteran said.

The annual Animal Care Expo is the largest educational conference and trade show for animal welfare professionals. The focus of the conference is to foster professional development and make connections so animal welfare experts can learn from each other. The VA-HSUS workshop featured presentations about how the human-animal bond and public-private partnerships help Veterans. Attendees learned about existing programs from OCE representatives and community partners that could be applied in developing their own community-based outreach and partnership initiatives with local VA facilities.

“Partnerships provide an innovative way to improve the health and quality of life for Veterans. Fostering and adopting animals and volunteering at community shelters and rescues enhance the quality of life for Veterans and pets alike. The collaboration between VA and the HSUS provides a valuable means of reaching Veterans who use VA health care services as well as those who do not,” said Dr. Davis.

“The HSUS is proud to be partnered with the VA to support our Veterans through the incredible power of the human-animal bond. Pets are an integral part of our lives and both of our organizations believe there are tremendous benefits that can be derived from facilitating more pet adoptions to Veterans, creating Veteran volunteer programs in animal shelters and rescues, and opportunities for Veterans to foster pets that are still in search of their forever home,” said Ms. Nichols from HSUS.

OCE staff also visited the Kansas City VA Medical Center that partners with Mo-Kan Pet Partners. The group, including Mr. LaRoe and Suzi Q, provides pet visitation and pet therapy to Veterans throughout the hospital including the Behavioral Health Units. This pilot partnership may be expanded further to offer patients in more VA facilities a chance to experience the positive effects of the human-animal bond.

"Suzi Q and I get a lot of positive feedback from Veterans, their caretakers and their loved ones we visit at Kansas City VA. That makes me feel like we're making an important contribution to their well-being. But for Suzi Q, she just loves all her people there. So far as she's concerned, this is the most fun she knows how to have with her fur on," said Mr. LaRoe.

Learn More

Read about VA’s expansion of veterinary benefits to service dogs working with Veterans with mobility issues related to mental health concerns

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