Working as an x-ray specialist for the United States Army, Jonathan Hedrick has seen wounds that are both physical and emotional.
“It was eyeopening for a young x-ray tech to see these type of healed injuries that they don’t really train you for in the text book,” he said.
The pain of others carried over to his own life and Hedrick wasn’t able to fully cope until he adopted his pet cat, Tessa.
“She gives me a sense of purpose,” he said. “I don’t have a family. I don’t have a wife or kids, but she’s there.”
Hedrick adopted Tessa from Pets for Patriots, a nonprofit that has connected thousands of veterans with animals across the country.
“Our whole goal is to save lives of people and of pets,” said Beth Zimmerman, founder and CEO of Pets for Patriots.
Zimmerman says the pandemic impacted how many shelters operate, which created many challenges connecting veterans with animals.
“We’ve had to intervene more directly with more adoptions than we ever had in the past in order to help our veterans,” she said.
With COVID-19 restrictions recently being lifted, Pets for Patriots is seeing an increase demand for adoptions during a time when experts say they’re needed the most.
“It’s life-changing,” trauma psychologist Juliet Madsen said of the impact that service animals can have on veterans’ lives.
As a retired paramedic from the US Army, and also the guardian of a service animals herself, Madsen knows the benefits of pet adoption.
“Animals can relieve social anxiety,” she said. “They can ease loneliness and stress. They can reduce the need for medication.”
For many veterans, the rewards of an adopted pet are priceless.
"Hedrick now works as a civilian x-ray technician and says he can still see clearly the benefits of adopting a pet, something he’s encouraging other veterans to do.
“Veterans, animals, you can’t beat that,” he said. “That’s a win-win.”