ATLANTA, Ga. (WXIA) -- For many in the military, the images of war can replay over and over in nightmares and cold sweats.
They are hard to erase... until you see a face like the one on Elvis the Dachshund. It immediately melts your heart and makes you smile.
And that's the simple medicine of matching vets with pets in a program called "Companions for Heroes."
"A dog like Elvis is just kind of there with you," said Cathy Roth of the Urban Pet Project shelter in Atlanta. "No matter what you do, he just wants to be your friend. It gives those veterans the love that they need to move on."
Roth is a navy veteran herself, and working with the shelter, she understands the easy magic of matching heroes with best friends. So does the Buckhead Rotary Club, which has given the shelter 20-thousand dollars to operate the program locally.
The free program is open to all veterans; but it may be especially beneficial to those who might be suffering from physical or emotional injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
"When we were looking around at a way to serve the needs of veterans, we discovered that they've got 18 suicides a day in this country; it broke our hearts," said Candace Klein, the president of the Buckhead Rotary Club. "We also found out that a shelter dog is put down every sixty seconds. So we began to work with our friends at Urban Pet Project for a way to put the two together."
And the Rotarians gave more than money. They also gave their time to help foster and train the animals.
"Basic skills like 'sit' and 'stay'; and to learn a little bit more about their personality, so they can have a good fit for a veteran," explained Klein.
The program is brand new so one of the challenges is simply getting the word out.
"Some of the guys may want just a little cuddle-bug to sit in the bed with them and be there with them," said Roth. "A veteran in a wheelchair may want a little dog a Chihuahua that will hop up and ride in the chair with them. So there's a wide variety of animals we're looking at."
Veterans can apply through Companionsforheroes.org. And if they meet the criteria, they'll be referred back to Urban Pet Project, where they can select a pet, as well as get free veterinary insurance for a year and other perks.
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