Whether your pet has fur, feathers or scales, there are great benefits to owning a pet. For veterans, having an animal to love and care for can be life-changing and incredibly positive.
5 Benefits of Having a Pet for Veterans
Structure and Routine
Veterans have spent years of waking up at zero dark thirty for morning PT, lunch at the chow hall and an evening that starts when the bugle sounds “Retreat.” It can be hard to be suddenly cut loose in the civilian world. There is no longer someone else calling the shots or writing the orders.
All at once, veterans leaving active duty are without the structure and routines that have governed their lives for so long.
Pets can add that structure back into their lives. Dogs need to be walked regularly. Cats need their litter changed routinely. Even fish and reptiles live by a schedule of interaction and cleaning needs. Every animal needs to be fed on the regular, too. Then there are the veterinarian appointments. A pet’s needs automatically create the need for routine and schedule.
This type of routine can ground a veteran and replace some of the structural void left after military service. Pets provide a higher or greater purpose that could motivate a veteran to find a new non-military rhythm for life.
Companionship and Camaraderie
You often hear military troops refer to each other as brothers or sisters. The military creates a structure of shared work and deepens relationships through tough times.
After leaving the military, or even transitioning from active duty to the reserves, a veteran might find this part of their life lacking. There aren’t built-in friendships. For single veterans, it could feel as though no one needs their presence to survive.
A furry friend can provide friendship and love, plus a reason to get out of bed every day. Our pets are entirely dependent on us to survive.
Pets are there 100% of the time. Dogs and cats are ready for snuggles, long conversations and play time. Many dogs, and even some cats, enjoy going for walks with their humans. Relationships and bonds are formed and deepen over time.
Animals often know when their humans are feeling sad, angry or upset. They might react, just like a human friend, with extra love and support. While they can’t talk back, a pet is always there to listen.
Ease Mental Health Concerns
Many veterans return from active service with mental health concerns or even injuries that impact their emotions. Veterans can experience depression, PTSD and other mental health illnesses. Often these can go undiagnosed.
Owning a pet can help to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses. By providing the regular routines and companionship, many veterans feel less alone. Feeling like they have love and support can boost moods and help to lift symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Note: if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact a medical professional for assistance and advice.
Provide Life Assistance
When veterans return from deployment, they often come home with injuries, both visible and hidden. Coping with these life changes and navigating the civilian world can be a challenge.
Often, a service animal can be of assistance. Many service pets provide services, like opening doors or guiding visually impaired humans safely. Other pets are medical alert animals, signaling when their human is in distress or trained to contact emergency services. Some pets offer official mental and emotional support.
For veterans who are finding their way again after injury, working with a service animal can be a vital part of their treatment plan.
Not every veteran will qualify for a service dog, which can be expensive to adopt and train. First, veterans must have a diagnosed disability. Second, they must work with a dog that is temperamentally appropriate to assist them given the specifics of the veteran’s disability.
For veterans who are interested in working with a service dog, Operation We Are Here maintains a list of organizations who might be able to help.
Serve a Higher Purpose
Veterans have offered to sacrifice anything and everything, including their lives, in the defense of our country. This can be seen as a truly noble cause, serving a higher calling or purpose.
It can be hard to return to or enter the civilian workforce after dedicating your life to service.
Rescuing a pet from an animal shelter can help to fulfill that call to duty. There are thousands of loving animals in need at shelters around the nation. Too many of them will never leave to find their forever homes.
When veterans consider adding a pet to their family, it can be rewarding to adopt their new friend from an animal rescue or shelter. For veterans who want to assist animals in other ways, they can volunteer or foster pets in need.