For the grieving mother of a Marine who died in Afghanistan, a special dog provides a unique link to her son.

“I know that Colton passed his love on to this dog, and that's why he's so loving,” said Kathy Rusk at a ceremony honoring the bond between Eli, a bomb-sniffing black Labrador Retriever, and Pfc. Colton Rusk.

At the ceremony, Eli mustered out of the military, just months after his human partner, Pfc. Rusk, 20, of Texas, died in a firefight in Afghanistan. Pfc. Rusk’s family members adopted Eli.

During their time together, Pfc. Rusk and Eli are credited with saving the lives of other troops by uncovering bombs, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

The New York Times has reported the Marine Corps is increasingly relying on dogs on the battlefield. In 2007, just nine bomb-sniffing dogs worked with Marines in Afghanistan. That number is expected to reach nearly 650 by the end of the year.

U.S. Air Force spokesman Gerry Proctor said the trend reflects dogs’ effectiveness in reducing the threat posed by bombs.

“There is no technology that can replace a dog for its sense of smell. Mechanical means are only about 50% effective, and the dogs have to certify at 95% effective,” Mr. Proctor said during a Washington Post live chat earlier this month.

Mr. Proctor, who is stationed at the base in Texas where the dogs are trained, said soldiers often develop a deep bond with their animal partners.

“It depends on the individual,” Mr. Proctor said. “But I have never known a handler that said they didn’t have a close significant bond with their dog. These people aren't put into this program, they ask to be part of it.”

To see a photo essay of war dogs in action, visit ‘War Dogs,’ from Foreign Policy magazine.

Send us your patriotic photos of your pet and tell us your story about ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. Watch our blog for a July 4 tribute!

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Pet Health Insurance Headlines

Instead of spotlighting a veterinary practice today, we’re shifting gears to showcase a group that works with animal hospitals to help shelter pets and pet parents in a very special way.

Mario, a three-tour Iraq War veteran from Colorado, retired from the Army after he was diagnosed with leukemia. His doctors told him he needed to take special care of himself as his treatments would suppress his immune system.

Pet Photo - Kona

Thanks to help from Pets for Patriots, Mario was able to get his dog, Kona, the surgery that he needed. Today, the pair is inseparable and enjoys snowshoeing in the mountains together.
Photograph provided courtesy of Pets for Patriots, Inc., all rights reserved.

So Mario decided to adopt a dog to keep him active.

“I went to the animal shelter and immediately fell in love with Kona, a Husky dog, even though he had some special needs,” Mario wrote in a blog post. “Kona had a leg injury, a respiratory infection and had been adopted a few times before, but was returned.”

That didn’t stop Mario from adopting the dog, although taking care of him was no easy feat. And when Mario found out Kona’s leg injury would cost him thousands of dollars to fix, he was worried.

Mario didn’t want to return his new friend to the shelter, so he sought help from Pets for Patriots, a not-for-profit group that connects shelter pets with US military veterans and provides access to veterinary care discounts. He shared his story on the group’s blog.

“The real benefits of our program start at adoption,” says Beth Zimmerman, founder and executive director for Pets for Patriots in Long Beach, N.Y. “By providing high quality veterinary care at a reduced cost from our member veterinary practices and giving direct financial assistance towards the purchase of pet food, supplies and other basics, we can minimize the chance that veterans return their new pet friend due to short-term financial hardship.”

Although some special exceptions were made in Mario’s situation since he didn’t adopt Kona from a member shelter, he was able to enroll in the program, visit a member veterinary practice and get treatment at a reduced cost for Kona.

Today, Kona is healthy and the pair enjoys daily runs and snowshoeing in the mountains.

Making Connections
The goal of Pets for Patriots is to reduce the adult pet population in shelters and enhance the lives of US military members and veterans.

“Think of us as a connector between the veteran, shelter and veterinarian,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “We support opportunities for our member Patriots to adopt an adult dog or cat (2 years old and up), a large dog (40 pounds or more) or a special needs pet. And we give veterans the resources to assure a lifetime of happiness together.”

Once a veteran becomes a member and completes an eligible adoption from a member shelter, he or she will receive an ongoing 10% discount on veterinary fees for the adopted pet. In addition, Pets for Patriots provides a gift card from a major pet retailer to help with pet food, supplies, toys and other basics.

“The most rewarding aspect of this program is that in the simple act of pet adoption, two lives are saved: The shelter animal who keeps getting passed up for adoption because they’re too old or too big and the veteran who gains a sense of renewed purpose out of life by helping a pet,” Ms. Zimmerman said.
 
Giving Back
Pets for Patriots recently added two veterinary practices in central Illinois—Beaumont Small Animal Clinic in Urbana and Country View Veterinary Clinic in Champaign—to its fold of member veterinary practices.

Siren was in the shelter for six months until Ben, an active duty Air Force veteran, recently adopted her. Ben told Pets of Patriots that Siren has already brought so much joy into his life.
Photograph provided courtesy of Pets for Patriots, Inc., all rights reserved.

According to a press release, the practices joined Pets for Patriots so they could give something back to those in the military who have given so much. All of the member veterinary practices, like the two in Illinois, must agree to extend a minimum 10% discount on all service fees for the life of the pet in exchange for the partnership.

Participating shelters have to meet certain guidelines. They are responsible for offering an incentive, such as an adoption fee discount, day-one essentials or discounted services with area groomers, sitters and boarders.

Joining Pets for Patriots is entirely free to veterans, who can enroll online.

A Bright Future
Ms. Zimmerman and her team are busy establishing partnerships around the US in areas that have large populations of military members and veterans. Her vision is for the organization to be national in three years, helping even more veterans and pets stay together, like Mario and Kona.

“If it weren’t for Pets for Patriots, I would have had to bring Kona back to the shelter,” Mario wrote. “Kona changed my life. He helps me stay active so I can maintain my health, and he also keeps me smiling and happy. We saved each other and because of that, there is nothing that can separate us.”

Learn more about Pets for Patriots.

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Veterinary Clinic Spotlight

WELCOME,
PET PARENTS!

As we’re dedicated to making a difference for pets, we want to keep you informed about pet health topics and your ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Our blog will provide you with fresh, interesting and informative topics—from pet health tips and customer stories, to the latest industry news and a Pet Parent Q&A column. Most of all, we encourage you to share comments and join the discussion!

Meet the Author

Julia H.

Social Media Coordinator

Pet Parent to:

Lucy, a 7-year-old rescued Golden Retriever/Chow Chow mix

Blog Guidelines

While we’ll strive to present all viewpoints on this blog, comments will be reviewed before posting. Offensive or inappropriate language, off-topic remarks and comments containing personal policy information will not be featured.

Also, conditions discussed in this blog aren’t necessarily covered by every ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. For full coverage terms, conditions and exclusions, please refer to your plan.

As always, if you have a question about your plan, call us at 1-866-204-6764.

*Note: While these testimonials may include examples of recent claims payouts, reimbursement is subject to the terms and conditions of your plan. Identifying information has been changed.