PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A non-profit is helping local veterans one dog at a time. Pets for Vets just opened their first Philadelphia location and the results are already exceeding expectations. Now they have plans to expand and help other vets find their perfect match.
Ray Abarintos and Suzy are a match made in heaven. The shepherd mix and her owner met nearly a year ago and have been inseparable ever since with Abarintos jokingly referring to her as "Velcro Dog."
"The moment she came through the door she was scanning the area and she saw me, she was a little bit hesitant but I knew that this dog is the right one for me," said Ray Abarintos, a veteran.
The beginning of their friendship would mark the end of Abarintos' more challenging days as a veteran trying to adapt to life as a civilian.
"Life was actually difficult," he said, "Once a week or so, I would get flashbacks, it could be from a loud noise, certain smell, see something on the film."
Abarintos served in the Navy and Coast Guard. Several years ago he was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury or TBI. It's exactly the type of case Pets for Vets frequently handles. The national non-profit believes dogs can help reduce suffering, loneliness and improve mental health. It just opened a new chapter in Center City under the Ms. Marcum Share the Love Foundation which also helps military veterans.
"Everything that happened with Ray is what I envisioned happening with this, what Pets for Vets calls a super bond between the dog and the person," said Bradford Putt of Philadelphia Pets for Vets.
Five-year-old Suzy was adopted in April of last year from Match Dog Rescue in New Jersey. Longtime trainer Patricia Bentz helps choose the dogs and trains them to be good companions, which is different from a service dog.
"Pets for Vets focuses on finding providing veterans with companion pet dogs. A service dog is meant to satisfy at least two functions for the person that they do the service work for," said Patricia Bentz, owner of K-9 Training & Behavioral Therapy.
For Ray, the companionship has proven to be life-changing. Now he hopes his fellow brothers and sisters will have the courage to do the same.
"Asking for help does not mean that you're weak," he said.
Pets for Vets hopes to expand in Philadelphia. But the non-profit needs your help to assist vets who are waiting for their perfect match. You can donate your time by being a foster parent, your expertise as a certified k9 trainer or make a monetary donation. For more information, CLICK HERE.