Steve first heard about Pets and Vets from a counselor at the Veteran Center in Concord, CA. A Veteran of the United States Marine Corps, he was interested in being paired with a psychiatric service dog, but didn’t know where to begin. Once a Pets and Vets team member explained the process and discussed what he was looking for in a canine companion, Steve was ready to commit.
Our rescue team knew Coco was special from the first time they met her. Much of her background is a mystery, beyond that she was found as a stray in Fresno, CA. The young Anatolian Shepherd mix carries herself with a confident, relaxed attitude, but lets her goofy side show from time to time. Steve told us “Coco’s eyes tell a story. She has seen a lot. She is gentle and strong at the same time. She is so happy to be happy.” He has even given her a nickname: Coco Soft Paws, “because she went from living like an infantry Marine to letting me spoil her with a never ending supply of belly rubs, hugs, and kisses.”
Before a dog from the Pets and Vets program earns their service dog vest, they go through an extensive training process alongside their Veteran handler. Steve brought Coco home in October of 2021, and was part of our class of graduates earlier this year. He confessed, “I’m not too sure who trained who. Coco was very patient with me as I learned the right phrase and command.” By training together as a pair (rather than matching applicants with already-trained dogs), we find our Pets and Vets teams form stronger bonds and have far greater outcomes. “The program was flexible to my work and life schedule,” Steve continued, “and the staff was so dedicated to training, they selflessly dedicate long hours and countless time to our success. They exceeded my expectations by far.”
Now that Coco is officially a service animal, she can join Steve everywhere he goes. Service dogs are welcome in stores, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and beyond! But Coco’s comforting aura is felt by Steve at home just as much as it is out in public. He said, “her presence calms me and allows me to be more comfortable during the day in doing daily activities. When I get a little worked up or my hyper vigilance is in overdrive, she paws me or pokes me with her nose to pet her. Then she watches over me at night and wakes me when I have military service-related nightmares.”
As they have always been, the strongest advocates for Pets and Vets are its graduates. In Steve’s words: “If you are in a position to be a part of this life-changing experience, then I wholeheartedly suggest Pets and Vets. Saving Both Ends of the Leash® is not just a motto, but the truth.”
If you know a Veteran who could benefit from a service dog or emotional support animal, please have them contact our Pets and Vets team to get the process started.