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Vets fostering Pets: The temporary connection making a lifelong difference

Posted: 6:55 PM, May 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-08 15:27:42-04
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BALTIMORE, Md. (WMAR) — The Maryland VA Health Care System is researching the effect a foster pet can have on elder veterans.

Army veteran Nelson Matias always wanted a dog when he retired.

He found so much more in Caesar.

“He wakes me up in the morning when I don’t wanna wake up,” said Matias. “He’s a great companion. I always have him with me; I love him.”

This perfect connection is the work of Veterans Affairs of Maryland Health Care System Research Physiologist Heidi Ortmeyer.

Her research focuses on the impacts of vets fostering animals over a two month period, looking at changes in physical activity and quality of life.

The food, leashes, and bowls are all paid for by a research grant from Maddie's Fund.

“They realize they don’t have to keep the dog,” said Ortmeyer. “It’s not an adoption where you might feel pressure or maybe nervous. This is very low key. They bring the dog in, and If things don’t work out, the dog can go back to the rescue group. I work with rescue groups that are willing to do that. It’s a team effort with the rescue groups, the shelters, the veteran, and the VA.”

A lot of the dogs are older and in need of a couple good months with a loving owner.

Herman Smith's time with Cliff started just in time.

“I had just lost my oldest son November 1, 2014,” Smith said. “Five days later, my wife of 50 years, I found in the house dead. After all that was done I went through a real bad depression state, and probably on the verge of being suicidal.”

He realized he couldn't handle living at home anymore and decided to move into a senior community.

Unfortunately, they didn’t allow animals, but Cliff's job was done-- the pair had saved each other.

“I’ve always been just me and my wife. After 50 years, she wasn’t there to pull me out of my depression state, support me, to back me up, to always be pushing me onward, making me the man she always knew I could be. Then Cliff came along, and he started pulling me forward. "

Lenne Miller has had dogs his whole life.

“I’m kind of a sedentary person, I read a lot and I watch a lot of TV,” he said.

At 13-years-old, Milla still has lots of walks left in her.

“Milla is a walker; she loves her walks," Miller said. "I think Sunday, I took her on five walks.”

Most of the time the research ends in adoption.

“I feel better,” said Miller. “When I wake up, I feel fresher and I get up sooner. Before Milla I would get up and be in my pajamas, and the first thing I would do is go in the living room and turn on the TV. Now I get dressed immediately and take her outside.”

You don't need charts or graphs to see the results.

“He’s whatever you are,” said Matias. “If you’re very active, he will be active with you. If you’re calm and not doing much, he will sit there with, you lay with you. He takes on your personality pretty much.”

With vets fostering pets, saving each with each step forward together.