Since 2008, Home for Life has provided pet therapy services to injured soldiers who are receiving rehabilitation and care at the Veteran Administration Hospital's Polytrauma Unit, one of just four such faciliities in the entire country.
One of the nurses from the Polytrauma Unit came across Home for Life's display at Macy's Courtyard during our annual holiday event at the Mall of America at the end of 2007, and noticed that, in addition to providing refuge for at risk animals, Home for Life helps at risk people through our Pet Peace Corps pet therapy programs. She observed many of our animals used wheelchairs and had other disabilities yet were thriving and happy under our care.She thought that our animals could help her patients if we could provide pet therapy to the injured solidiers at the Polytrauma Unit,lifting their spirits with the visits from the dogs and also inspiring the injured young men and women who would see that our dogs were happy despite the fact that that they were coping with disabilities.
The patients in the Polytrauma Unit have suffered multiple injuries in the wars- amputations, terrible head injuries from IED weapons- and face a long,uphill battle to regain their lives and independence. If the dogs at Home for Life could provide some comfort through our pet therapy visits, we were more than happy to try to help.
Our visits, which are part of Home for Life's Sit*Stay*Heal program, involve several dogs at Home for Life who visit the patients. It is fun and uplifting for the veterans to see the dogs,but the dogs also provide vital motivation for rehabilitation: for instance patients exercise their uppper body strength by playing fetch with our dogs. One young soldier who had been in a coma,finally responded when visited by one of our dogs and a few weeks later,uttered his first words since being injured,asking for Simon,his favorite Home for Life dog. The dogs seemed to restore his will to recover.
On Memorial Day, we remember and honor the servicemen and women who have given their lives to preserve the freedom we often take for granted residing in the United States. We have to remember as well the many soldiers who have suffered serious injuries in the wars. These young men and women will never be the same and will face innumberable challenges as they seek to regain their lives. It is haunting to think of the incredible sacrifices made by our troops for our country.
As average citizens, we cannot do much to impact the outcome of the wars or influence the politcal debates. It is easy to feel helpless and depressed when seeing the carnage on CNN.
At the same time, it is thrilling to know that we have made a difference for some of the injured veterans who have benefitted from the visits from the Home for Life dogs and volunteers.
The story of Nate and Simon which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press is incredibly touching and illustrates what a profound difference the pet therapy visits can make for soldiers at the Polytrauma Unit. Read the story of Nate and Simon, one of Home for Life's dobermans and a certified therapy dog here: http://www.homeforlife.org/media_09.htm
Audrey Hepburn,whose VA Hospital id badge is pictured above,Harry the maltese and Amigo, a retired K9 , are the other Home for Life dogs who participate in our outreach program at the Polytrauma Unit.