Paws for Heroes Mission
Our mission is to bring comfort and companionship to our veterans by rescuing shelter dogs that have been carefully evaluated, selected and professionally trained for the purpose of providing emotional support and companionship.
Paws for Heroes History
Paws for Heroes was founded in 2013 by 3 oil and gas business women after they learned there was no organization in Houston, Texas helping veterans by providing trained dogs who offered comfort and companionship. The founders of Paws for Heroes all have family members who are either currently active duty in the military or have relatives who are veterans.
How do Dogs Help Veterans Heal?
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is not a mental illness. It is a reactive change the brain undergoes, after having been exposed to the stresses of war. Many veterans’ brains stay in combat mode after they come home—and the condition may persist for many years. Their brains tell them to be on high alert for an enemy. They have difficulty sleeping and have nightmares about what they saw and experienced. Being in a crowd can be extremely stressful, because the brain tells the veteran danger could be waiting among the people around him. Emotionally fragile, sleep-deprived and depressed, these military members begin to withdraw from family and friends.
Sadly, many veterans end up committing suicide. The VA estimates that somewhere between 20% and 30% of veterans return home with PTSD.
In November 2023, the VA released updated statistics regarding veteran suicides for the year 2021. The report showed that 6,392 veterans committed suicide in 2021. Broken down, that is more than 17 veterans, per day.
How can having a shelter dog help a veteran with PTSD?1
Scientific evidence of a dog’s impact on humans has been studied for many years. More than 30 years ago, a study produced evidence that the act of petting a friendly and familiar dog lowers a person’s blood pressure, causes the heart rate to slow down, making breathing more regular and causes tensed muscles to relax. All of these add up to reduced stress.
- Recent studies have gone further, showing that a dog actually changes blood chemistry, reducing the amount of stress-related hormones produced by the body. Moreover, the positive effects build up over time. Depression and anxiety can be lessened.
- Praising the dog can help overcome emotional numbness. Playing with a dog reduces feelings of anxiety and, by encouraging veterans to focus on the present moment, help them not dwell on painful memories.
- Bonding with a dog elevates hormones that improve trust and overcome paranoia. Owning and bonding with a dog causes the brain to produce chemicals that are the direct opposite of chemicals associated with PTSD.
- Walking a dog improves physical health. When the veteran walks through their neighborhood with their dog, the activity provides an opportunity for casual, low-stress interactions with neighbors, which reduces feelings of isolation and facilitates reintegration into society.
- Companion dogs can help to counteract the cycle of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and improve the military member's overall well being. One of the ways a companion dog can help is by allowing veterans to express their feelings and clarify their thoughts to the dog without concern that the companion dog will interrupt, offer criticism or judgment, or pass the information on to others, as may occur in human interactions. Why would this help a veteran? Confiding in one’s companion dog provides similar benefits to expressive writing in which disclosure of emotionally meaningful matters has been scientifically documented to help deal with traumatic experiences.
- Adopting a shelter dog provides a military member the satisfaction of helping another living being, which can help to assuage some of the feelings of guilt they might experience from events that occurred in combat or survivor's guilt over why their lives were spared but others were not.
- Companion dogs enhance sleep by giving veteran's a greater sense of security at night. Some dogs can wake military members who experience nightmares or comfort them if they have experienced a bad dream.
- Having to get up and walk with their companion dog in the morning and evening at the same time each day helps regulate the veteran's sleep-wake cycle, making it easier to fall asleep the next night and get up the next morning.
When the small but significant changes described above begin to add up in a veteran's life, the veteran will usually begin to be less depressed and have an increased interest in social and work activities. At the same time, the veteran may also experience a reduction in fear in social situations which may help facilitate their reintegration.
What we hear many of our veterans say when we visit them is that their Paws for Heroes dog has become their best friend, and with their dog, they feel like anything is now possible in life.
What Does Paws for Heroes Do?
When a veteran applies to us for a dog, Paws for Heroes conducts several interviews with the veteran. Later, Paws for Heroes visits the veteran’s home to ensure the veteran is ready to care for a dog and the environment is safe and suitable for a dog. Paws for Heroes searches shelters for an adult dog that is confident, friendly and owner-oriented. Using service dog criteria and evaluation standards to evaluate the dog, when the right dog is found, Paws for Heroes places the dog in a foster home. After the candidate dog has been through the foster phase, the candidate dog receives training by a professional dog trainer at a board and train facility. The candidate dog is also provided up-to-date veterinary care and a microchip. When the dog is placed with the veteran, the veteran also receives dog equipment including a crate, bedding, bowls, leash, collar, bones and toys. While all of the staff who work to place dogs with veterans are unpaid volunteers, the direct costs of adoption, training, providing veterinary care and equipping a dog for presentation to a veteran averages $7,000-$9,000, with a majority of this cost being associated with the search and evaluation of the dog and the professional dog training. All services are provided at no cost to the veteran.
What Does Paws for Heroes Do?
"I am really in a loss for what to say. It is amazing … even unbelievable what Paws for Heroes has done to put a desire for life back into folks like me. Having to live everyday of our lives fighting to put the dark thoughts of memories, experiences and the errors of our youth aside just to survive.
I can best say what I feel in writing rather than words, you and all the others will never know or begin to understand the gratitude, renewed glimmer of the good in people and knowing someone really does care / appreciate what others and I tried to do to protect and serve our beloved country ….. preserve out most precious Republic. Just to see that wonderful dog and know all you’ll have done for a burnt out old Vet, ignites feelings in me I thought were gone forever.
This has given me hope for the survival of recognition by our countrymen / women for all the names on that black wall that represent the ones I know and the young men that the only thing left of them is that name etched on a wall. I pray everyday of my life, we never forget. Thank you is never sufficient to express what I feel. May God bless you all."
SSG Lyle Green, Purple Heart & Silver Star recipient
1st. Inf. Division, Vietnam War
“I love my dog. Paws for Heroes is a great organization. They are so great at what they do for vets."
MacArthur Reed, Sandy's owner