At Veteran Energy, we’re always glad when we get a chance to sit down with one of our Affinity Partners and learn a little more about how they accomplish the great things they’re able to do. And this week was no exception as we had the opportunity to chat with Jessica Nelson, one of the founding members of Paws for Heroes.
Keep reading to learn more about this great organization.
So, what was the motivation behind starting Paws for Heroes, Jessica? Why veterans? And why dogs?
In 2013, I watched a documentary about a program based in California that was placing professionally trained emotional support dogs from rescues or shelters with veterans suffering from PTSD. I was inspired. And so I searched the internet to find an organization in Houston I could volunteer with. But I couldn’t find one, surprisingly, even though Houston has the second-largest veteran population in the U.S.
I started to do more research and discovered the heartbreaking rate of veteran suicides. I couldn’t believe the statistics. I felt numb and angry. I have strong ties to the military. My father served in Vietnam. My brother served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. So, even though I was upset there wasn’t an organization here in Houston, it also energized me to do something.
I got ahold of two of my friends, Jan Potts and Deanne Goyer, and we started Paws for Heroes. All three of us have ties to the military. And we all love dogs. We knew this would be a great way to help veterans and save some of our four-legged friends from shelters.
Since Paws for Heroes was started, how many veterans have you been able to help?
So far, we’ve been able to place 38 dogs with veterans. Each match takes a considerable amount of time and effort—on average 6-9 months to find, evaluate, select, train and place each dog with each veteran. Not all dogs initially accepted into the program are placed with veterans. But if a candidate dog isn’t eligible for the program, we find a permanent home for the dog. We never return a four-legged friend to the shelter.
We also like to forge a lifetime relationship with these veterans. We stay in touch to make sure the veteran and dog are a great match. We offer additional dog training. We help find good veterinary care. And we even organize several social events each year—like tickets to ball games and holiday visits with packages and treats—to help keep our relationship strong. These veterans and their dogs become a part of our family.
The money donated to Paws for Heroes goes toward what, specifically? How does that get broken down?
For each dog that’s placed with a veteran, Paws for Heroes incurs direct costs of about $4,000 to $5,000. More than half of that is to pay our certified dog trainers to train each dog. The balance pays for veterinary care (wellness exams, vaccines, spay/neuter, microchip, etc.) and equipment (dog crate, pad, leash, harness, bones, toys and bowls).The veteran also receives a starter kit of heartworm preventative, flea protection and a three-month supply of quality dog food.
How does it feel to get support from an organization like Veteran Energy?
One word: amazing! Veteran Energy is Paws for Heroes biggest corporate sponsor. We wouldn’t be able to assist as many veterans each year and save homeless dogs without Veteran Energy’s support. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see that Veteran Energy has donated more than $500,000 to veteran organizations. It’s proof there are companies that truly care about making veterans’ lives—and those of their families—better.
How has the community responded to your efforts?
The community has been overwhelmingly supportive. Schools have held fundraiser dog walks for us. And local sports teams invite us to events. And everywhere we go, people see our slogan—Healing Houston’s Heroes … One Lick at a Time—and they want to learn more. That’s one thing we can definitely say about Texas: They love their veterans, and they love their dogs.
Of course, people can always donate money, but how else can they help?
Volunteers are the heart of our organization. And we can always use their help. We need them to help at fundraisers. We need them to help transport dogs from foster care to training facilities. And, most importantly, we need volunteers to actually foster dogs. We’re always looking for foster homes for the four-week period (max) after dogs have been accepted into our program before they go to “boot camp.” We always invite these foster families to meet the veterans once the dogs have been placed with them. They get to see the veteran and his or her new Battle Buddy and how the two are now thriving. And it gives the veterans a chance to thank the foster parents.