I have since attended several fundraising events for HHH, the most recent being this past Saturday. It was both emotional and inspirational to hear from some of the clients who have benefited from the services of HHH and to see the support that this organization offers them day in and day out.
I had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the founder of Hounds Healing Heroes, Michelle (Shelly) Cote’. What I learned gave me an even greater appreciation for all that this group does.
The statistics are alarming. Every day over twenty lives are lost to suicide due to PTSD and related illnesses, and it has been proven that the companionship of a pet can help with the healing process.
Shelly has worked in rescue for many years. She founded HHH after a VA counselor approached her about one of her rescue dogs for a particular Veteran with PTSD. They both knew what dogs can do for humans, especially those who have given up and feel they no longer fit in the world. Shelley understood the challenges Veterans face as her own father, a Vietnam Veteran, suffered from PTSD.
Hounds Healing Heroes consists of a small group of volunteers who take in special needs shelter dogs, who likely would otherwise not be adopted and rehabilitate them in a home environment. The dogs are generally between one and three years old and must be able to function in social settings. They may be any breed, in fact Shelly often takes pit bulls into the program and has found that they excel!
The process of matching a dog with an owner begins with interviewing the client to see if there are any physical limitations that would limit the size of the dog he or she is able to handle and if the client is partial to a particular breed or breeds. Shelly then finds out what the client’s triggers are – crowds, strangers, unfamiliar places – and then selects dogs with suitable temperaments. She has found that usually the dogs inherently know if it is the right match and if the bond will develop naturally.
All dogs in the program go through basic obedience training based on the Canine Good Citizen Handbook. Then training is expanded to meet the individual client’s needs. This may include scanning a crowd, being aware of who is approaching and alerting the owner. Dogs are also taught to sit and face away from Mom or Dad and in crowd control – forming a barrier so the owner will have more personal space.
The program continues to support clients and their dogs long after the placements are made, providing supplies and veterinary care for those who cannot afford it. HHH also has a food bank and a foster network in place for emergencies. It offers opportunities to continue training and anything else that is necessary to foster a successful partnership between the owner and the dog.
To fully understand what Hounds Healing Heroes does, it is necessary to hear from those who have adopted dogs and realize the difference this program has made in their lives. Listening to some of the HHH clients made a lasting impression on me and is one I will not forget.
Thank you Shelly and all the other volunteers who comprise Hounds Healing Heroes. This program helps both Veterans and civilians to overcome the stigma attached to their illnesses and be able to function in the world. The unconditional love provided by their companion dogs helps them in ways that no humans ever could.
Please visit http://www.houndshealingheros.com/ for more information.