Little Rock vets find therapy in stray animals

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – From their happy attitude to their loyalty, there are plenty of reasons why humans consider dogs as a man's best friend. But at the Little Rock Animal Village it's also because they're willing to listen to what people have to say when no one else will.

Every day, dozens of people come in and out of the Little Rock Animal Village. Some to drop pets off and others to pick them up.

"There's so many smiles on the way home," said Whitney Pierce, psychology fellow at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

But perhaps no group that comes in is as special as the one that comes in every Wednesday at 11 a.m., for they are survivors, patriots and veterans still fighting a very real battle years after their uniforms have been put away.

"I spent about a two-year period where I was suicidal," said Skip Lunders who is a veteran that has worked at the Little Rock Animal Village for the last two years. "Just constant, almost a daily event of you know this is the last day I'm going to put up with this."

Through the VA and Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, veterans come to the village weekly walking dogs, petting cats and spending time with animals that need adopting.

"Dogs aren't very judgmental," said Navy veteran Jasmine Freeman. "You can tell them anything, and all they're going to do is jump on you and lick you."

In the process, they find a friend willing to lend an open ear and a companion in need of just as much help.

"You know [the veterans] are socializing [the animals]-- making them better pets, making them more adoptable," continued Pierce.

The idea is the brainchild of Whitney Pierce, who eight weeks ago began pairing war veterans with stray pets at the Little Rock Animal Village, giving each a positive influence they've been looking for.

"I don't want to kill or anything, I don't want to hurt nobody," explained J.D. Webb, who suffers from schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. "I get help day-to-day by coming here to the dog park."

So far, the group has attracted seven or eight veterans, in the process eroding the barrier between man and animal and finding a common ground between two beings.

"We're just like everybody else," added Webb. "Yes, we have mental issues, but the thing is we're seeking help."

The Little Rock Animal Village has more than 150 adoptable pets that it pairs with the veterans. They say changes in both pairs have already been seen.

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