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Pets Helping Vets and Vice Versa

Maverick went from stray on the streets to safe in a no-kill shelter. Now he's in training to be of service to a veteran with PTSD--Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that as of October 5, they would no longer cover the costs involved with assigning service animals to war veterans with mental disabilities.

In an announcement made in September they stated the VA would continue to provide service dogs for people with visual, hearing or mobility impairments but cited lack of data that service animals supply any real medical benefit to vets battling mental issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"Real world" data would tend to contradict the new VA policy on this subject, but nevertheless, if a veteran with PTSD wants or requires a service dog, they are now responsible for the cost themselves.

However, in Atlanta, for one vet battling a stress disorder, that will not be the case.

As part of their Pets Helping Vets program, LifeLine Animal Project, a non-profit, will train and supply a dog for a local veteran with PTSD, completely free of charge.

"We know that you don't just support your military when they are in the line of fire and forget about them when they aren't," said Debbie Setzer, director of community service for LifeLine. "We would like to be of some aid to our service men and women when they come home. We want to thank them for stepping up to do a very difficult job."

Maverick, a formerly homeless pit bull puppy, was chosen by dog trainer Lori Shanks out of more than 100 dogs in LifeLine's shelter and foster dog program. Shanks said she was looking for a pup of the right age that also had the correct combination of smarts and temperament to be a service dog.

Shanks, a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers previously owned a K9 Campus and trained service dogs to aid autistic children. She also trains canines for a new non-profit, Vested Paws.

Maverick is currently living with Shanks and her family in Newnan. Training him is an every day and sometimes around-the-clock job, a job that will go on for the better part of a year.

Beyond service dogs, many veterans and their families find great comfort in simply owning a pet who is loyal and attentive to them. The emotional connection to a dog or cat can create a sense of security that helps offset stress or emotional issues.

To that end, in 2011 LifeLine started offering free dog and cat adoptions for all veterans, past and present, and even current enlisted military.

"If our military friends want to add a pet to their family, we want to offer them a four-legged friend from our rescue and waive all adoption-related fees as our way of saying thanks," stated Setzer.

Adoption fees at LifeLine's shelter normally range from $80 - $120. Included in the fee are vaccinations, spay or neuter and micro chipping, services that can normally cost up to $350 per pet. Many of the rescued dogs in their no-kill Dog House have also received some obedience training while being housed at LifeLine.

Offering a service dog free of charge (the specialized training alone can cost up to $12,000 per dog) and adopting out pets for no fee is an expensive venture for the Avondale Estates non-profit. LifeLine covers the costs of offering pets to veterans and military families through donations to their Pets Helping Vets program and they encourage supporters to aid them in honoring and helping members of the military.

Donations to the program can be made through their website, or can be mailed to LifeLine Animal Project, Pets Helping Vets, PO Box 15466, Atlanta, GA 30333.

For more information about Pets Helping Vets, contact community@LifeLineAnimal.org.

For veterans and currently enlisted military who want to adopt a rescued dog or cat from LifeLine, free of charge, contact adoptions@LifeLineAnimal.org.

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