County Shelter animals give comfort and aid to U.S. Veterans

By Bob Gordon, FOTAS Communications Director

“There is a special bond that dogs and humans share,” says William Collins, a local U.S. veteran who served overseas.  “A dog can make a huge difference in a person’s life.”

The dog that changed William’s life is a four-year-old, shepherd mix named Buddy that he adopted from the Aiken County Animal Shelter (ACAS). The calm canine goes everywhere with William and helps him to cope with the long-term, after effects of war.

“Buddy has changed my life for the better,” William says.  “He has allowed me to live a healthier, more functional and fuller life.  Buddy is a safe place for me and I depend on him to help me with some of the difficulties and challenges I face on a daily basis.”

Because it recognizes that servicemen and women can benefit from the companionship of a shelter cat or dog, FOTAS has decided to make its half-price adoption discount for U.S. veterans and active U.S. military personnel a year round program. FOTAS sponsors half the adoption fee, so dogs are $35 and cats just $17.50. The discount was launched on Veteran’s Day of last year and due to the positive response, FOTAS decided to make it a permanent offer.

It is a small way for us to thank the men and women who serve our country.

FOTAS also helps find service dogs for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other health issues that can result from military service. Working with dog training specialists like Veterans K9 Solutions Inc. in Augusta, FOTAS has provided service dogs to about 15 veterans over the past few years.

“These people [veterans] are my heroes, and any help they can get from FOTAS and the shelter is very much appreciated” says Jerry Lyda, co-owner and founder of Veterans K9 Solutions in Augusta. Jerry is a veteran himself and started his nonprofit training organization after he saw his buddies come back from Vietnam with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other war-related ailments. He focused on training canines from shelters to assist veterans “because it saves two lives – the person and the dog.”

Luckily, most veterans don’t suffer from PTSD or other war-related illnesses. They just come to the Shelter to add a furry companion to their home. But for those that do, the dogs can be a godsend.

Joe Shaia, another local war veteran, adopted Laila, a two-year-old, Shepherd/Retriever mix, from the County Shelter two months ago. Joe was stationed in Afghanistan and came back with severe PTSD. But since training and spending time with Laila, he’s finding it easier to cope with his illness. Joe has difficulty being in areas with a lot of people, but Laila acts as a buffer and always has his back.

“She means a lot to me,” Joe says. “She helps me get out in the public and out of my safe zone and gives me something positive to focus on.”

For more information about the U.S. Military Services/Veteran Half-Price Adoption Program at the ACAS, please go to www.fotasaiken.

Their lives are in our hands.

William Collins with his service dog Buddy

Laila goes everywhere with Veteran Joe Shaia