Love Our Pets and Vets is gearing up to change human and animal lives for the better in the new year with a gift that keeps on giving, companionship. With a focus on helping members of two underserved communities, the newly launched nonprofit aims to pair military veterans with shelter animals in and around the Los Angeles area.
Different from other admirable organizations that provide disabled and deserving veterans with service dogs, Love Our Pets and Vets is unique in that it focuses solely on pairing overlooked shelter dogs and cats with veterans. Through its Diamond in the Ruff Program, the organization works to help veterans, many of whom have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), anxiety and depression.
The goal, according to the organization’s Founder and Executive Director, Cheryl Eckert, is to “rescue one to help heal another.”
Eckert did not have to look far for inspiration to make her dream a reality, it was born from the special and transformative bond that she witnessed between her son, a military veteran, and her dog, Lola, an 11-year-old Chinese Shar-Pei.
“When my son comes over, his whole demeanor changes when he is with Lola,” Eckert told WAN, explaining that Chinese Shar-Peis rarely get close to more than one person. “They will almost always choose their favorite. In Lola’s case, she is crazy for my son and he is crazy for her. He seems so much lighter when they are around each other. It’s wonderful.”
Eckert’s son’s response as to why he does not get a dog of his own is, “He could not afford one.” Hence, the second mission of Love Our Pets and Vets is helping military veterans afford to keep their pets.
Heidi Huebner, who created and is the Director of the PUP (Pets Unstressing Passengers) Programfor LAX, is also a valuable member of the Love Our Pets and Vets team and serves as Chairman of the Board of the organization. A longtime animal advocate working with rescue groups, nonprofits, and shelters, Huebner has been instrumental in aligning Love Our Pets and Vets with partners, such as, Outta the Cage and Better Together Forever,to help ensure that the military veterans, who might otherwise not be able to afford it, can properly care for their new four-legged family members. They help with veterinary care, food, supplies, and many other needs. Pet Care Foundation is also available to help with adoption fees if they are not waived, this includes vaccinations, microchips, and spay and neuter services.
“The human-animal bond has been around for more than 15,000 years. I have seen this magic between people and their fur kids firsthand for over 30 years in my work in the rescue and pet therapy world. This mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and wellbeing of both,” said Huebner, who accompanied Eckert to a meeting at the Veterans Association earlier this week where they and the Diamond in the Ruff Program was warmly welcomed. Now, the team is focused on building relationships with veteran groups, local veterinary services, dog trainers, and other key partner organizations.
“We are getting the word out about our organization and encourage others to become involved with it,” shared Eckert, who also has openings for volunteers, as the organization begins to help find potential matches, arrange for meet and greets between the veterans and the shelter animals, and much more.
“A lot of the veterans may have had dogs or cats in the past, but it has been awhile. We educate them and serve as a support system. From finding potential matches, to scheduling meet and greets with the veterans and animals, we prepare them for a successful relationship with their new companion animal and best friend,” concluded Eckert, who is also known for inventing the “Leave It Leash.” A portion of the proceeds from sales will be donated to help support the organization.