Pets and Vets had another remarkable year, and one of its most moving moments was the graduation of a new class of Pets and Vets shelter-to-service dog training teams. The celebration was a powerful and joyful reminder of the transformation this program creates for participating Veterans, their families and friends, and the extraordinary shelter dogs who train alongside them.

Retired Air Force Sergeant Jeff and his service dog Maddie were among the graduating class in January. Their journey through the Pets and Vets training exemplifies the profound ways the program touches lives. Learning to be a service dog and handler as a team gave Jeff the challenge and satisfaction of training Maddie to support his unique needs. With Jeff as her guide, Maddie learned to excel as a psychiatric service dog. This team approach to training deepens the bond between Pets and Vets Veterans and their service dogs, fostering pride and a sense of purpose for both.

ARF’s Pets and Vets shelter-to-service training program heals and enriches lives far beyond those of the Veterans and shelter dogs participating. Family and friends witness and also benefit from the joyful transformation. “My wife used to say she didn’t know which version of me would wake up in the morning,” says Jeff. “Since I’ve had Maddie, that’s changed. Maddie’s been a life-saver. If I didn’t have her, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Since the Pets and Vets program was created in 2011, ARF has pioneered innovative solutions to serve Veterans with PTSD and other conditions that can benefit from a psychiatric or emotional service dog. From that time forward, we have enhanced the lives of thousands of Veterans, their families, and their pets through free adoptions, free veterinary exams, and our nationally replicated shelter-to-service Pets and Vets training program.

The coming year will see the launch of new ways to make ARF’s support services more widely available to Veterans, including a new foster program that will engage volunteers to help prepare shelter dogs for the service dog candidacy. “We are keenly focused on expanding our programs so more former service members and shelter-to-service dogs can experience better lives together,” said Amanda Conlon, Director of the Pets and Vets program. “The need is great and our solution is a win-win for Veterans and shelter dogs. We stand poised and ready to answer the call.”

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