Puppy love soothes veteran

By Jeanie Hankins


A military veteran with post-traumatic-stress disorder has a new best friend, and a young rescue dog has a family. The match is a dream come true for the dog’s former owner, and it is one piece of a mission accomplished for the Humane Society of Wickenburg.

Greg Hitchcock served in the U.S. Marines from 1988-1994. After his discharge, he became a firefighter in West Greenwich, R.I. His crew was called in as a technical rescue team after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City. After many years of service to his country in the military and fire service, Greg and his family moved to the Wickenburg area in 2010. To help heal from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he had encountered as a result of his career, Greg said he had an emotional support dog for the past six years.

“He was my very best friend,” Greg said. Sadly, earlier this year, his dog came to the end of its life, and that left Greg without the daily companionship he so desperately needed.

His wife, Sally, began looking for another dog, and it wasn’t long before she contacted Tammy Hankins, executive director of the Humane Society of Wickenburg, whom they knew previously from participating in the local saddle club.

Meanwhile, Tammy, along with HSW staff and volunteers had been working on a project, which fit perfectly into Sally’s plan. In May, a disabled veteran in the Wittmann area contacted HSW to help him rehome about 60 dogs he had raised with the intention of placing them with veterans. Lacking the resources to get the dogs into the hands of veterans, Willie Bryant asked for help.

The HSW team sprung into action. The Wickenburg Sun reported the story, and subsequently, several generous donors came forward to help with the project. HSW, with the counsel of Dr. Nancy Bradley, DVM, from Midwestern University Veterinary College, catalogued each animal and created a plan to have the dogs spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Altered Tails Barnhart Clinic, a nonprofit in Phoenix, has stepped up to help with the surgeries, and a vaccine supplier and distributor have donated some vaccines, Hankins said. HSW has been busy transporting them from Bryant’s property to receive medical care, then housing them at the shelter in Wickenburg and offering them for adoption.

To date, HSW has taken 36 of the 66 dogs at Bryant’s place. “We have nine in the shelter, and we have placed 27,” Hankins said. Thirty-three of those taken were between 3 weeks and 4 months old, she said. She hopes to be able to continue with the project to rehome most of the remaining dogs.

While Greg and his family fit Bryant’s original idea of matching dogs with veterans, many of the dogs have not gone to the homes of veterans. “Most of them make nice pets, but do not qualify as service animals,” Hankins said. “(Bryant’s) mission was to place them with veterans with PTSD, and that is certainly a possibility, however the dogs have not been trained to be service animals and need some socialization in order to be able to take that next step.”

For Greg, however, the dog he named JB is just what he needed – even if Greg wasn’t initially convinced. “We went and took a look at JB. He was a little skittish, but we spent about an hour and a half with him and thought, ‘he’s a good boy and needs some love, so we are going to take him home and love him.’”

JB now knows he has a home and a family that welcomes his hugs and kisses, but for Greg, it’s so much more. “He’s helped me a lot. I deal with PTSD, anxiety and depression… and wanting to exist,” he said. Having JB there for support and to give him a purpose makes all the difference, Greg added. His only regret is that he couldn’t adopt more than one.

“We really got a good one with him. I wish we could have helped out more. We want to thank everyone at the Humane Society for the job they do. If you are thinking of getting an animal, reach out and help them. Instead of going shopping for a dog, go to your local shelter and see if you can find one there. They need us as much as we need them.”

Hankins said the project has been extremely rewarding on many levels. “It was heartwarming. This adoption gave JB a purpose, and Greg got a new best friend and support animal. It’s an honor to rescue a dog and match him with a veteran who served our country in the military and as a first responder during 9-11.”

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