HHS working to connect vets and pets

From adoptions to therapy sessions, humane society offers support to veterans

Sometimes the best therapy comes from a four-legged friend.

"Whether we realize it or not, they are good therapy. Animals have a calming effect and that's one of the benefits of a pet with a veteran or anybody who has anxiety or PTSD or suffers from any of those types of conditions," said Andrea Wendlandt, pet therapy/veteran program manager at the Hinsdale Humane Society. "Pets are soothing and calming and there have been studies that have been done to show those effects pets have on humans."

That's why the humane society offers a variety of ways to connect pets with vets, all offered at no charge.

"Our big one is the support animal match up, where we match veterans with support animals," she said. "We go through a long list of questions to find out what they can or can't have or what they're looking for in a matchup."

A vet who lives in the city is working with the humane society now on an adoption.

The humane society also offers veteran pet therapy sessions here in Hinsdale (see sidebar) and at the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton. The dogs help the homeless veterans forget about their current situation for a while.

"They are so wrapped up with the dogs that are there, sitting on the floor with them or petting them or laughing because the dog is coming over wanting to paw with them," Wendlandt said. "It's definitely an hour of a soothing experience with them."

The sessions also give the vets the chance to talk to the therapy dogs' owners, sharing stories about their pets.

The humane society offers veterans discounts on fees for adoptions and other procedures can connect them with community resources if they need dog or cat food.

A veteran volunteer program trains vets not only to volunteer, but to serve as a mentor to other veterans interested in the program.

Veterans also can obtain foster care for a pet while they are in temporary housing or receiving in-patient care for physical or mental health issues.

HHS partnered with a Chicago organization called Canine Crews to provide shelter for a veteran's dog while he was in the hospital.

"He's getting his pooch back today after being checked in for the last 28 days," Wendlandt said.

Folks at the humane society are hoping to see more and more vets turn out for events, Wendlandt said.

"2022 has really been the year to get out name out there," she said. "We're hoping in 2023 we can really grow these sessions."

She noted that the agency's service area extends beyond village borders.

"Even though we may be in Hinsdale, we do have a wide reach," she said.

The BJ Chimenti Angel Fund for Veterans and Pets has allowed HHS to expand its offerings to those who have served their country.

"I think the (fund) is just another way to reach people who may be in need thanks to BJ herself, who had that love for animals and veterans," Wendlandt said.

One of the veterans BJ loved was her husband, Norm, who served in the Marines from 1963-64 and in the reserves until 1967. BJ served on the HHS board for about a decade in the 1980s and again for about five years before she died in February 2021, Norm said.

BJ's obituary invited friends and family to make a donation in her name to the humane society.

"So they called me a couple of months after BJ passed away and said, 'The response we've gotten is unprecedented,' " Norm recalled.

They asked if the money could be used to expand programs for veterans and name the program in her memory. Norm agreed, of course, and set out to do some additional fundraising on his own. His goal over the next 10 years is to raise enough money to help fund expenses and create an endowment fund.

BJ loved her work with the human society, he said, and often brought it home with her.

"At one point I think we had six cats and two dogs because a litter of six (kittens) would come to our house and only five would go back," he said. "That happened with disturbing regularity."

Wendlandt noted the program is beneficial for animals as well as humans and looks forward to helping more veterans in the future.

"I think the challenge is getting the word out and understanding what these pet therapy sessions can bring," she said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean