Metro non-profit strives to connect veterans with adopted pets

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Sometimes, a friend is needed to help people survive life's struggles.

A new group in the metro aims to assist veterans find companionship, pairing people with adopted pets. The non-profit group, Pets for Vets, and its local leaders hope to help the metro in two ways; using animals from local adoption agencies and connecting them with veterans in need.

Man's best friend could be a soldier's most treasured companion.

Avery Shahandeh and her husband Aaron hope to connect the two. They're the organizers of the Kansas City chapter of Pets for Vets, a national organization that has bureaus in 34 U.S. cities.

"We’ve seen firsthand the trials and tribulations the veterans have after returning. Even seeing interviews on television as well as in person. They do need help. We don’t want them to be forgotten," Avery said.

Studies have shown companionship with a pet can lower the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other post-combat anxieties soldiers often experience overseas after returning home. The Shahandehs know the struggle firsthand. Aaron served in the U.S. Army National Guard, but he was never deployed overseas.

Avery says the difference between Pets for Vets and other military-based adoption agencies lies in the training, which can go for up to eight weeks per companion animal.

"That pet is trained professionally by our group of trainers. Our trainers go and interview the veteran and find out what their likes and dislikes are -- whether they want to walk, run or have a couch potato," Avery said.

"Having the dog would keep them from struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction and even domestic violence."

Chris White, owner of Dog Obedience Group in Blue Springs, Mo., sits at the heart of training animals for the program. White also served in the U.S. military as an Air Force mechanic, and he embraces the benefits of a dog or cat.

"It's been proven the dog is a very therapeutic piece. Two, you have to take care of the dog. That gives you something to take your mind off your stresses and what’s bothering you at that point," White said.

The Panera Bread location on Douglas Street in Lee's Summit held a benefit for Pets for Vets on Thursday evening, donating a portion of its proceeds to the non-profit group.

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