COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Service dogs provide comfort and therapy to many people, including those that have served in the military, but sometimes those placements can be hard to come by.
It’s why one organization is trying make that companionship a little easier for veterans here in central Ohio and help enrich the lives of those who risk theirs to protect our nation.
“I talk to people, I’m happy, I get up in the morning, we go to the dog park,” says Andrew Sherman, a U.S. Navy Veteran as he reflects on how he’s changed since April.
For Sherman and his new pal “Trike,” it was love at first sight.
“They opened the front door, and he came running down the hall right to me and I mean, that was it. That was it, said he can stay,” recalls Sherman of the first time he and Trike met.
But not long ago, Sherman’s outlook wasn’t so bright.
“I went from very active to, ‘Well, we don’t know if you’re going to walk again.’ And it was literally overnight,” Sherman explains of the foot injuries he suffered during his time in the Navy.
Sherman experienced some of his darkest days after being retired from the service in 2005 because of his disability.
That’s when VCAS stepped in to save not just one life, but two.
“Some veterans when they come home, they might feel lost or forgotten. We haven’t forgotten you. We love you, and care about you, and we’re so grateful for everything you’ve done for us,” says Heather Lane, President & CEO of VCAS, of her message to the men and women they serve.
A veterinarian by trade, Lane founded Veteran Companion Animal Services back in 2013.
They rescue dogs to rescue veterans.
“People that are out walking their dogs, there’s a bunch of physical benefits for something like arthritis, for weight loss, for mental health just to get out,” Lane adds regarding the health benefits of having a companion.
But Lane doesn’t do it alone.
Tom Lennon Jr., a Navy veteran himself, volunteers with the veterans and their families to make sure VCAS and their shelter partners find the right fit for their home.
“We’ll find the personality, the character traits, size, gender — if they have a preference, for them,” details Lennon, of the thorough application and placement process.
But this perfect pairing almost never happened.
Trike gets his name because he has a disability of his own.
“I’m already disabled, I had a hard enough time getting myself out of bed. I just didn’t want it; I didn’t want anything to do with it,” explains Sherman, who indicated in the application process he wasn’t comfortable with a disabled dog.
So, what made him re-consider?
“Our shelter partner said this dog matches up perfectly with Andrew’s request,” recalls Lennon, who contacted Sherman to schedule that first meeting in April.
Seven months later, Sherman and Trike are inseparable — walking, playing, and even attending biker events together.
It’s all part of VCAS efforts to forge unbreakable bonds, serving those who serve.
“What do they mean to me? They saved my life. My mental life anyway, you know?” admits Sherman.
VCAS placed its first dog in 2018, they’ve placed a total of 14 dogs with central Ohio veterans, with 12 more expected to be placed next year alone.
For veterans interested in a possible placement, they can visit the VCAS website