Man and dog

Did you know that having veterans work with long-stay shelter dogs is a win-win for both veterans and the dogs? That’s exactly what Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley (HSTV) discovered when they launched their Heroes and Hounds program, pairing veterans with at-risk dogs who need a little special attention to get ready for adoption.

The result has been a 50 percent reduction in length of stay and a 50 percent  increase in their lifesaving rate since the program started!

Before launching, they enlisted the help of their local Veterans Affairs (VA) to learn about what it’s like to work with and around veterans.

“We had a representative come speak at a staff meeting,” explained Amy Buttry, Executive Director of HSTV. Through that meeting they learned simple but helpful tips like having a structured program with checkboxes for each task and command taught. “We learned that veterans like to have boxes to check off for a mission completed, so that has been key to the program.”

After setting up a table with a shelter dog at their local VA, they had over 12 veterans sign up the first month. Since then, not only have more than 70 dogs been trained to date, the feedback from veterans has been extremely positive, too.

“There’s a lot of therapeutic value in it. It makes me feel like I’m helping others,” said one volunteer who is a Purple Heart recipient with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Buttry went on to explain how adult dogs are often overlooked in the shelter because people tend to have the misconception that something is wrong with them. “Often times, the only thing that is wrong with them is that their first family didn’t give them much attention. This program gives them that one-on-one attention.”

Watch the 7-minute Maddie Talk to learn more about the program, success stories and how you can start one at your shelter!