Animal Shelter to Hold Dog Walk for Veterans & First Responders

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Mark Ferri, veteran and Vance County Animal Shelter volunteer, was on Monday’s edition of WIZS’ Town Talk program to discuss the shelter’s upcoming Veterans Dog Walk event.

The event – Paws, Tails and Boots – will be held at the shelter, located at 1243 Brodie Rd. in Henderson, on Saturday, April 13, 2019, from 9:15 to 11:30 a.m.

The public is welcome, with veterans, first responders and their families strongly encouraged to attend.

Selected dogs will have leashes and collars and can be walked in two of the pastures surrounding the animal shelter. “A lot of times people will come in groups and there may be 3-4 people walking and interacting with the dog,” said Ferri. “Some like to hold competitions like who can walk the most dogs or who can walk the farthest.”

Founded by Ferri in 2016, the dog walk serves the twofold purpose of matching animals with loving owners and raising awareness of mental health issues.

Serving as a volunteer for three years, Ferri has witnessed just how many of the dogs come to the shelter with traumatic past experiences. “Animals don’t judge, they just offer a never-ending source of love and support for people even though many have been injured or abused,” said Ferri.

Traumatic experiences are something that both the dogs and many veterans and first responders have in common. Ferri, who spoke in the interview of the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), said the interaction between dog and human is a healing experience for both.

“My understanding of PTSD is that being exposed to traumatic events can change you emotionally and can also alter your brain’s chemistry,” said Ferri. “Mental illness is a sickness, much like the flu, and should be treated as such.”

If left untreated, largely due to the stigma still surrounding the disorder, PTSD can lead to suicide. “Veterans commit suicide at a rate of 22 per day, and one first responder commits suicide every three days,” reported Ferri. “We’ve actually lost more service members to suicide than we have to casualties in Afghanistan.”

While the prescribed course of treatment for PTSD typically includes medication and cognitive therapy, Ferri said he has seen just how much caring for an animal helps with the disorder. Dogs and other pets provide companionship, acceptance and comfort, according to Ferri.

During the event, Ferri and other shelter volunteers and staff will be on-hand to answer questions and encourage participants who are eligible to commit to adopting an animal. “One of the purposes of this event is to allow the veterans and first responders to interact with the dogs to see what kind they want. They may also be better suited for a cat, and those will be available for adoption as well.”

To hear the Town Talk interview with Mark Ferri in its entirety, please click here

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