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

Operation: Hero-Animal Bond event encourages Veterans to keep pets for their own health and well-being

Golden-haired dog wearing a badge for certified assistance dogs.
A certified assistance dog at the Operation: Hero-Animal Bond event held at the Perry Point VA Medical Center

On November 14, 2018, an Operation: Hero-Animal Bond event was a first initiative to meet the operation’s mission: to inform Veterans about the benefits of petkeeping and volunteering with animals, which promotes health and well-being through the human-animal bond. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) partnership, Operation: Hero-Animal Bond, fosters relationships between Veterans in need of companionship and animals in need of good homes.

VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) collaborated with the HSUS to host the event during Veterans Month at the Perry Point VA Medical Center, part of the VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS). About 100 people participated in the event, including Veterans and their pets and representatives from VHA, local shelters and rescues, and community-based businesses. That day, petkeeping was the focus.

Representatives of Cecil County Animal Services, Maryland Animal Sanctuary & Rescue, Canine Humane Network, Pets for Vets, and two PetSmart stores provided information on petkeeping. They encouraged Veterans to consider adopting or fostering a pet as well as volunteering with local animal shelters and humane societies.

The Operation: Hero-Animal Bond event emphasized that Veterans can reap important health benefits from the companionship of animals. Research1,2, shows that spending time with animals can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, and feelings of isolation. The event also promoted volunteering at animal rescue and shelter sites, which can improve Veterans’ well-being by encouraging community interaction and social integration.

Jill Murray of OCE said the event was a great success, mentioning two Veterans who received direct assistance onsite. One Veteran brought a dog he had adopted two days before, which had not yet received vaccinations. Cecil County Animal Services was able to meet with the Veteran onsite to arrange for the needs of his new pet. Another Veteran, who sought to arrange for required community service, was able to make an immediate connection with a local shelter where she will volunteer her time.

“That’s exactly what this partnership is about: to improve Veterans’ health and well-being by making petkeeping and volunteering less confusing and more accessible for Veterans,” Ms. Murray said.

Dr. Heidi Ortmeyer, a VAMHCS Research Physiologist and Investigator with the Geriatric Research and Education Clinical Center, said that the Veterans she spoke with that day were enthusiastic and interested in learning more about companion dog and cat programs in the community. “Our programs serve as a win-win for our communities — providing companionship for our Veterans seeking a furry friend and saving the lives of companion animals!” she said.

VAMHCS, the HSUS, OCE, and local community shelters and rescues are expanding the Baltimore-based Operation: Hero-Animal Bond program throughout Maryland. Additionally, five VA medical centers across the country are in various stages of participating in the pilot partnership project. VHA announced the Operation: Hero-Animal Bond partnership in December 2017 and will continue to work with the HSUS to create mutually beneficial relationships between Veterans and animals. VHA and the HSUS are also developing an Adoption Tool Kit and rollout plan for the Operation: Hero-Animal Bond program.

For more information, please visit va.gov/healthpartnerships.

1. Brooks, H. L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K., Bee, P., Walker, L., Grant, L., & Rogers, A. (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC psychiatry, 18(1), 31. doi:10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2.

2. Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234.

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