When veterans come home from deployment, they can sometimes feel forgotten. With common tales of roadblocks to benefits, difficulties in obtaining work, or feeling isolated from loved ones because of post traumatic stress disorder, our soldiers can lose their way.
Another group of Americans that fall through the cracks are homeless pets. Though they are not people and they can’t tell us their struggles, their reasons for getting forgotten vary. A family may have left their pet at a shelter because they could no longer take care of it, the animal has special needs, or perhaps the poor creature never had a home to begin with. On all ends of the spectrum, it’s a heart breaking situation.
Pets for Patriots, initiated in 2009 and officially launched in 2010, is a service to veterans to create a bond with a homeless dog or cat that leads to adoption. Veterinarians who offer a lifetime services discount to the veteran-adopted pet, as well as cost reduction programs for typical pet supplies, are just part of what the program offers for those who have served.
“It sounds a little corny, but I felt called to launch Pets for Patriots when I realized that there were two populations with complimentary needs,” says founder Beth Zimmerman. “Veterans, who for a variety of reasons would benefit from a companion pet, and the millions of homeless dogs and cats who face a grim future if not adopted.”
Beth has a long history with architecture, as well as marketing and branding, which lead to a business strategy consulting service. She continued the consultancy even through creating Pets for Patriots, and feels her experience was the best way to prepare for running a non-profit.
“Our charity has three employees, two of whom are part-time,” Beth states of her support system. “Our volunteer team ranges from 15 to 20 people at any given time.”
“My principle role is to make sure that we have a clear strategy, are fiscally sound, [and] have strong processes and controls,” Beth shares. A big part of her job is in finding “donors, sponsors and supporters of all kinds who help make our work possible.”
Beth has a soft spot and a tremendous amount of respect for the U.S. military. One relationship in particular has really stayed with her and keeps her going.
“A gentleman joined our family a few years before I started Pets for Patriots,” she shares, talking about a WWII B-17 belly gunner named Charles. “He was a lovely man who passed away in 2012 at the young age of 92 and who, together with my mother, was a founding volunteer and cheerleader for our cause.”
The organization founder is very optimistic, even in the face of adversity. “One of our biggest challenges is balancing the huge demand for our program with our need to grow responsibly,” she says. “It’s a good problem to have, and one that we approach strategically.”
The bond of an animal and their family is highly regarded by Beth. Especially because of the important role these animals play in the lives of the veterans her organization is helping.
“For some, their pets are a reason to live and reclaim a positive outlook on their lives. For others, a pet is a comfort to their families when they deploy. Still for others, a pet may be the only family or friend they have,” Beth explains. “It is no exaggeration to say our charity saves lives, of both veteran and pet, and I don’t think we can ask for a bigger achievement than that.”
Have any adoptions she and her team facilitated stood out in her memory? “Our work has made possible so many wonderful and inspiring stories,” she proudly shares. “I really don’t think there is one that sticks in my mind more than all the others.”
If Beth could extend any message to the military of our country, whether they take part in her cause or could potentially be getting involved with them, what would she say?
“We are an organization of people who truly care about them, are deeply humbled by their service and will do everything within our mission and capabilities to help them with companion pet adoption,” Beth says. “Many veterans stay in touch with us for years, sending updates on their adopted pets, reaching out to us for help if they have an extraordinary need – like urgent or costly veterinary care – and basically becoming part of our Pets for Patriots family. We love that!”