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FOTAS: Memorial Day: A time to reflect with an adopted pet at your side

By Bob Gordon FOTAS communications directorMay 28, 2019

Bonding closely with a pet can be a powerful and healing experience. It is with this in mind that each month, FOTAS proudly sponsors the adoption fees for five active military and veterans. Paying for these Aiken County Animal Shelter adoptions is our small way of thanking the men and women who protect and serve our country.

“It’s awesome that you offer this program,” said Steven Vandiver, who adopted a kitten from the Aiken County Animal Shelter in January. “It’s important because having a pet is comforting and reassuring to the vets who come back from overseas, especially if they are suffering from anxiety or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Having an animal to focus on tends to make things easier for them.”

Memorial Day can be an especially emotional time for veterans as they think about their peers who didn’t make it back safe, but instead made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I look upon the day as a time to reflect on your friends who didn’t make it back,” said Stephen Guidry, who took advantage of the FOTAS sponsorship by adopting Duke, a skinny German shepherd who’s since filled out into a hearty weight.

Guidry served in the military from 2010 to 2018, which included tours in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Veterans often come to the county shelter to find a therapy pet or service animal. Dogs and even cats help them transition back into a normal day-to-day life.

When a veteran connects with the right pet, it can change both their lives for the better. The pet gets a loving forever home and the veteran receives unconditional love and support, which reduces stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety.

Jim Santa Maria, who adopted two retriever puppies from the county shelter through the FOTAS veterans sponsorship program, has been fortunate to have never sustained the scars of war, but during his two decades in the Air Force he’s seen a number of his peers suffer PTSD and other emotional problems. Santa Maria and his wife, Patti, live in Ohio but each month he works one week at the Air National Guard base in McEntire.

“I think for our men and women who serve in the desert and then come back to the states – some of them going on three or four deployments during their service – connecting to an animal can provide comfort and make them feel like they belong here,” he said. “Pets can help them make that difficult adjustment back into civilian life.”

If you, a family member or a friend are a veteran or currently serving in the military, be sure to visit the Aiken County Animal Shelter and find a furry companion. The shelter is located at 333 Wire Road in Aiken. Our new hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Their lives are in our hands.

By the Numbers

In April, the County Animal Shelter received 335 strays and surrendered pets. As of May 23, the shelter has already taken in 373 homeless animals this month.

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