CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Veteran Tom Lennon spent nearly 30 years in the Navy working as a pilot and a ship’s officer. The 72-year-old now works as a volunteer with Veteran Companion Animal Services, a Central Ohio organization that works with local shelters to pair veterans with a companion dog.
“I love to serve. I’ve served all my life,” Lennon told NewsNation’s Marni Hughes.
Lennon said joining VCAS was a no-brainer for him.
“It’s so heartwarming. You get to see this that this veteran … getting this companion, this new person into his life, and the dog is going to be given a loving home, the veteran is going to be given a companion, that will help him or her with any of the stresses that they have.”
Veterans who apply to the adoption program work directly with Lennon one-on-one.
He explained the process: “I get to do the first interaction with the veteran on their application. I go through the process with them. I am there to help with the selection when they first get to meet the dog.”
He said from there, the dog is placed with the veteran to get to know their lifestyle.
“And then [they go] through the training and graduation process and then follow up with them after six months with the dog, and then after a year.”
After that, the dog and the veteran get a chance to be a part of the group’s alumni program. Lennon said the program also gives veterans a chance to build lasting friendships and connect with other veterans and have fun.
“So, they know they’re not alone. They’re not alone in a foxhole when they come back to the civilian world.”
The program also has some other great perks, he said: “We provide them [the veterans] with a year’s worth of financial freedom, paying for everything that is needed to take care of the dog.”
There is only one requirement: a veteran must have received an honorable discharge.
Lennon said many of the veterans who apply to VCAS suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. And as a veteran himself, Lennon said he knows firsthand what fellow service members are going through, and that’s why he chose to help.
“That’s one of the positive aspects of our program, where these dogs help them cope with the issues that they’re struggling with. I hope that down the road, the Veterans Administration will recognize programs such as ours and help us provide dogs for the veterans throughout the nation.”
Lennon is not the only one who gets to connect veterans with companions. His wife, who talked to him into joining the organization, volunteers, as well.
“My wife Robin writes the newsletter for veteran Companion Animal Services, Lennon said. “She’s there with me when we go meet the vets and do home inspections, the meet and greets and the placements. So, it’s a true team partnership that we have serving the veterans in our community.”
So far, the organization has placed 14 rescue dogs with central Ohio veterans of all ages and backgrounds. They hope to pair more veterans with companion dogs in 2022.
To learn more about the Veteran Companion Animal Services, click here.