Transitioning back to civilian life can be a complicated process for a veteran. Many find it difficult to talk to friends and family about the things they have seen or done. Some may find that the life they knew seems to have moved on without them, leaving them lonely and wondering about their next step. Others find it hard to release the hyper-awareness they were required to develop for survival during combat.
Whatever the reason, many veterans struggle with deep depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often leads to the tragedy of suicide. For veterans, though, having an animal to love and care for can be life-changing and an incredibly positive decision.
Companion pets do more than make us smile; they are actually good for our health. Beyond the great physical health benefits that pets provide, there are many benefits for veterans that aren’t as obvious.
Many veterans return from active service with mental health concerns or even injuries that impact their emotions. Caring for a pet can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health illnesses, along with lowering blood pressure.
Animals can provide a sense of security and have a calming effect on the veteran, help with episodes of depression, and be loving companions. Dogs can sense our moods and will know when it’s a difficult day. Dogs provide us love and companionship without judgment, bringing joy into lives as they help heal emotional wounds.
Animals often know when their humans are feeling sad, angry, or upset. They often react, just like a human friend, with extra love and support. A dog can wag its tail, put its head on your lap, and make you feel special and wanted. Cats help by purring, rubbing against us, or sitting on their person’s lap. While they can’t talk back, pets are always there to listen. By providing companionship, many veterans feel less alone; rather, they feel love and support.
Structure and Routine
Veterans have spent years being told what to do and when to do it. It can be hard to be suddenly be cut loose in the civilian world, without the structure and routines that have governed them.
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 regularly, too. 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 can motivate a veteran to find a new, non-military rhythm of life.
Companionship and Camaraderie
The military creates a structure of shared work and deepens relationships through tough times. After leaving, or even transitioning from active duty to the reserves, veterans might find this part of their lives lacking those built-in friendships.
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. They 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.
A Higher Purpose
Veterans have offered to sacrifice anything and everything, including their lives, to defend our country. This can be seen as a truly noble cause, serving a higher calling or purpose. However, it can be hard to return to civilian life after dedicating your life to service.
Rescuing a pet from an animal shelter is rewarding and can help to fulfill that call to duty. There are thousands of loving animals in need at shelters around the nation. It’s often a new lease on life for the dog or cat, as well as the veteran. Many have been on a difficult journey of their own and were mistreated, neglected, or abandoned and living in shelters. Too many of them will never leave to find their forever homes.
When veterans consider adding a pet to their homes, it’s a win/win situation. When the animal is rescued, it gains a secure home and has a purpose, and the veteran gets a companion to help diminish the emotionally destructive feeling of isolation. Veterans who want to assist animals in other ways can volunteer or foster pets in need.
Pets can provide veterans a centering force in life and the comfort of knowing that no matter what, their pets are always there for them.