The Long Beach, N.Y.-based nonprofit Pets for Patriots was founded in 2009 and aims to help military service personnel and veterans find and care for companion animals. Three East Tennessee animal groups have qualified as "trusted shelters." Monroe County Friends of Animals joined this fall as the first Tennessee group, and the four Tennessee dogs adopted through Pets for Patriots have come from the Monroe County Animal Shelter in Madisonville. More recently, Knoxville's Young-Williams Animal Center and the Loudon County Animal Shelter have joined.
Anyone with military service is eligible to qualify at www.petsforpatriots.org. A future pet owner can be on active duty, retired or on inactive status. Service in any military branch makes a person eligible. Once qualified, a service member or veteran goes to a participating shelter to select a pet from animals that often have a tough time finding homes. A Pets for Patriots animal must be an adult dog or cat age 2 years or older, a dog or cat with special needs or a dog of any age that weighs 40 pounds or more.
Pets for Patriots gives new pet owners long-term help caring for their animals. Veterinarians who join the program give military owners a minimum 10 percent discount on the animal's care. Currently three East Tennessee practices — the Monroe County Animal Hospital and Knoxville's Admiral Veterinary Hospital and Pellissippi Veterinary Hospital — are listed as participating veterinarians. Through Pets for Patriots, owners also get an annual $150 gift card to Petco, PetSmart or Tractor Supply to help pay for their animal's food, supplies, toys or other needs.
Pets for Patriots doesn't help pay any shelter adoption fees. It requires a shelter to reduce that fee or give the military pet owner other benefits like pet training or a going-home leash and collar.
At Young-Williams, Pets for Patriots adopters will get 10 percent off an animal's adoption costs. In Loudon County military adopters will pay no fee; county commissioners this month approved waiving the $80-per-dog and $70-per-cat cost for Pets for Patriots. At the Monroe shelter, Pets for Patriots adoptions are reduced 45 percent. An animal from that shelter goes home with a bag of food, and the animal-owner pair get a training class from the shelter.
Navy veteran Melina Patricio found her German shepherd Remington at the Monroe County shelter and adopted the 65-pound dog through Pets for Patriots. She adopted the 1 ½-year-old dog in August, just after the shelter joined the program.
A volunteer for the German Shepherd Rescue of East Tennessee, Patricio was looking for a shepherd that'd be good with her three cats. She learned about Pets for Patriots through Amy Bryant of the rescue. Bryant heard about it from Monroe County Shelter Director Vicki Morgan. Patricio qualified with Pets for Patriots and was ready to bring Remington home when she learned the cat-companionable dog was available.
"She's the biggest goof. She loves to play and she is just always smiling. She really does smile," said Patricio of her dog. "I love to take her and show her off. We go to the dog park and she has so much energy. She can play all day, then curl up on the bed and go to sleep. She is so great. (Though) She did chew up my phone charger."
Patricio is studying criminology at the University of Tennessee after five years in the Navy. Her husband is on active duty stationed in Virginia. She'd have adopted Remington without Pets for Patriots but says the benefits are helpful. She hopes other veterans will use the program. "It's a really great idea to help people who want a dog but not necessarily know how to get one as veterans."
The dog changed her life. "Yes, I have three cats. But that is not the same as coming home to a dog. They don't wag their tails and get excited. She really got me out of the house. When I started school, I only knew two people. Now I meet people because I go out with her. There's a lot of programs that veterans don't know about, and this is one of them. If the word gets out, more pets can be adopted. … Honestly, it gives you a new life, too."