Clarissa Black
History, Mission and Accomplishments
Pets for Vets was founded by Clarissa Black in 2009. Through her volunteer work at the VA Long Beach with her dog, Bear, Clarissa saw first-hand the positive impact trained emotional support/companion animals had on the veterans. She created Pets for Vets to bring these benefits to veterans on a full-time basis. Pets for Vets is addressing the needs of veterans who are not eligible for service animals but who could benefit from having a trained companion pet.
The mission of Pets for Vets is to help heal the emotional wounds of military veterans by using the power of the human-animal bond to provide a second chance for shelter animals by rescuing, training and pairing them with America’s servicemen and women who could benefit from having a companion animal.
The Pets for Vets program has received national recognition for its approach and successful methods.
Pets for Vets was named in Parade Magazine’s November 10, 2013 issue as one of 11 ways to help veterans.
One of our veteran-pet matches was featured in People Magazine’s April 7, 2014 issue.
Structure, Operations and Tax Status
Pets for Vets is a 501(c)(3) recognized by the IRS.
From the first location in Long Beach, Pets for Vets has expanded to 18 additional states and the District of Columbia. Several more locations are in the preliminary stages. Our goal is to have at least one chapter in all 50 states. Demand for this program continues to grow.
Three of our new chapters in 2014 are “shelter chapters”. This is a very effective model because many of the components needed to provide the program are already in place in shelters.
We work with VA hospitals in our chapter areas to identify veterans who are eligible for our program. We review their applications, interview them and assess their needs. Our experienced trainers visit shelters with which we have established relationships and select the dog best suited to an identified veteran’s needs. One of our trainers takes the dog home with him/her for rehabilitation. Pets for Vets uses only positive reinforcement, non-force based, training techniques. Our training program is very personal and hands-on because we want our dogs to fit seamlessly into the veteran’s daily life. Our chapter personnel become acquainted with the veteran through the application, interviews and home visits; our trainers discuss the type of companion pet the veteran wants and help guide him/her toward one appropriate for the veteran’s lifestyle and personality.
We are impacting military families by assisting in healing the emotional wounds of the veteran which strengthens the quality of life for the veteran and his/her immediate family.
Innovative Solution Description
Pets for Vets is unique because we are providing rehabilitated, trained shelter dogs as companions to veterans. Other programs focus on service dogs. We spend a lot of time meeting with the veteran and understanding his/her needs, personality and lifestyle. The majority of veterans do not qualify for working service dogs but can still benefit from having a companion pet. Many organizations are trying to emulate the Pets for Vets program. Some arrange for veterans to visit the local humane society which chooses the match. No training is provided for either the shelter dog or the veteran. Other organizations are now copying our Welcome Package, equipment valued at approximately $500. None of the other organizations provides the same comprehensive program that Pets for Vets does. Most importantly, our program is offered at no cost to the veteran.
We train the rescued animal prior to placing it with the veteran, thereby reducing stress. Training can include desensitization to wheelchairs or crutches and recognizing and reacting to panic or anxiety disorder behavior. We provide the initial equipment and supplies needed for the veteran-pet match. We ensure the pet is healthy, up to date on shots spayed/neutered and micro-chipped. We provide on-going follow-up and assistance for the life of the match. One veteran commented “I cannot express how grateful I am to you and your organization, and work and dedication that you put forth for the returning vets… Thank you so much for a new lease on life.”
Tangible Results to Date
Our veterans provide anecdotal evidence that companion animals are a life-saving therapy. One veteran who suffered from PTSD and TBI is no longer dependent on medication just one month after receiving his Pets for Vets companion dog. A veteran who suffered from PTSD was able to finally turn her lights out at night shortly after receiving her companion dog. Working with and learning to train his Pets for Vets companion dog, helped a veteran take his mind off what he endured in Iraq, manage his anger and better his relationship with his son. A veteran with an overwhelming desire to commit suicide no longer has nightmares of his traumatic tour in Iraq.
Medical studies have shown that companion animals significantly improve the mental and physical health of those serving and having served in the military. Companion animals can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety.
Both the animals and the veterans have been through traumatic events in their lives and together they are helping each other heal.
All chapter personnel are volunteers, giving of their time because they believe in the Pets for Vets program.
Pets for Vets is a “two for one program” providing a second chance for both our deserving veterans and shelter pets:
• it reduces the number of VA visits;
• it reduces VA costs;
• it reduces suicide rates;
• it helps veterans be productive citizens;
• it improves the lives of military families;
• it cuts shelter costs;
• it reduces the number of shelter pets;
• it recognizes the sacrifices these brave men and women have made on behalf of the rest of us; and
• it provides a way to say thank you to individual veterans.
Our chapters promote community involvement including having local organizations sponsor a veteran-pet match. In one chapter area, local retailers collected equipment with holiday giving trees. Community involvement and support has an additional positive impact on the veteran and his/her family.
This personalized, hands-on program is making a difference in the lives of veterans and shelter dogs. The program is offered only through chapters as we have to have a trainer and chapter personnel near the veteran to support the veteran-pet match.