Long Beach resident Beth Zimmerman formed a national charity that unites military people with dogs and cats.
While growing up in Lido Beach, Beth Zimmerman developed a
love of country and a soft spot for sheltered animals. She has since wed these
childhood values into a charitable organization, Pets for Patriots, which unites
homeless dogs and cats with military men and women at any stage in their
“We had always adopted shelter dogs in my family
and we were always raised to have an abiding sense of patriotism and respect
for everything our veterans have done for our country,” said Zimmerman, now a
Long Beach resident. “It just literally occurred to me that with the action of
pet adoption we could literally save two lives.”
As testimony to her epiphany, the charity’s website
posts letters and videos from military people who benefit from the
program. In one video, Mario (whose surname is withheld, as in all testimonials),
a Marine veteran of three tours in Iraq, explains that the military retired him due
to an autoimmune disorder he developed overseas, after which he adopted Kona, a
Husky, from a shelter.
But Kona needed a leg operation and Mario was unemployed and unable
to pay $3,000 for the surgery. He faced having to put the dog down. Later he learned about Pets for Patriots and became a member of its program, which
made the cost more affordable through a partner veterinarian.
“Just the simple thing of them helping out with getting a
dog in my life just really helped to boost my spirits,” Mario said.
Mario and Kona are among 209 military people and pets who have been united
across thirty states since Zimmerman founded Pets for Patriots in 2009. She
recognized that Mario’s case is representative of the program, in that
short-term financial hardship for military personnel is a primary hurdle to pet
adoption. So the organization provides a range of
financial support through partners, sponsors and direct contributions. “It’s to
help make pet adoption an affordable reality over the lifetime of an adoptable
pet,” she said.
Partners include the AW2 Army
Wounded Warrior Program, a U.S. Army advocacy program for wounded, ill or
injured soldiers and veterans. Most sponsors are animal-related businesses but
also include Flooring America, a nationwide provider of floor coverings. The
Board of Directors consists of people from across the country that were introduced
to the organization.
Last year Zimmerman started to build what is now a small
army of volunteers who take on more responsibilities. Her goal is to have the organization
operate in all 50 states. Initially, she personally made calls to Long
Island-wide animal shelters and veterinarians. Success, though, relies on a
high representation of veterans in the program, but the tri-state area has
proved a tougher place to recruit.
“I think we just don’t have as much of a veteran- and
military-oriented culture here in the tri-states as in other parts of the
country in which the military is very much a way of life for many people,” she
Zimmerman, who also owns a business strategy company, expects
this will improve as she collects more stories of successful adoptions from
around the country, especially those that touch on what she calls the “halo
effect” that the program has on family members and others who are impacted when
a military service member adopts a pet.
“While not all of our veterans that
adopt are disable or coping with things like depression, many of those who do
come to our program are struggling with some psychological condition or
trauma,” she explained. “And the change that occurs in their life through
adopting a companion animal naturally extends to their family members and their
coworkers and other people that they interact with in their community on a
daily basis. We hear this over and over again that the transformation goes
beyond the person and the pet.”
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