Veterans find companionship through pet program

Justin Morseth started the "Pets Healing Vets" program.

Many veterans return home from war suffering physical and emotional scars.

"I want the ability to have peace," 37-year-old Justin Morseth said as he fought back tears, sitting next to his wife of 12 years, Megan.

But when you're haunted by the memories of war, like the ones Morseth is after serving on the front lines during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, even a little peace can be hard to come by.@

"It's a daily struggle," Morseth explained. "The flashbacks.@The nightmares."

Morseth has also struggled with depression, panic attacks and alcohol abuse since returning home in 2008. The father of two has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, but psychiatric medications only made it worse.

Instead, it's been rescue dogs, a Husky named Sampson - who has since passed away - and rescue dogs Lucy and Cobi, who have given Justin back his life.

"They bring you back to a level of simplicity where you just enjoy life," said Morseth of his dogs.

It's a freedom Morseth and his wife wanted to share with other veterans.@That's why they and the Humane Society of Hamilton County started a program called Pets Healing Vets.@

"We had known what these dogs had done for us and we knew that they could do the same for other veterans," said Morseth's wife, Megan.

The program matches Indiana veterans struggling with the effects of war with a rescue animal, either a dog or cat, from the Hamilton County Shelter.

"It saves lives both ways," said Megan.

The program is only a year old, but it's the only program of its kind in Indiana.@So far, it's made eight matches between veterans and rescue dogs from Hamilton County.

Matches like Greg Sexton and his rescue dog, Patton.

"She just comes to me and loves on me," Sexton said.

When you're just back from a war zone, feeling detached from everything and everyone, unconditional love from a pet is sometimes what it takes to bring you back from horrors of war.

"She's definitely helped save my life and my marriage, both," explained Sexton.

He says before he got his dog, it was still hard for him to open up about his feelings about being in combat.

"They can sense things.@As soon as I got a hold of her, or she got me, more or less, she hasn't left my side.@She just doesn't leave me," he said.

"I think they ground you," said Morseth.

He knows first hand that his dogs accept who he is. Which right now, finds Morseth struggling with depression and a year of unemployment.

Lucy and Cobi don't care about either.

"What soldiers like Justin go through is real.@It's very real," said Megan Morseth.

So is the healing power of these rescue animals, though, that pass no judgement and only have unconditional love to give.

The pet is free to veterans and its medical expenses are covered for life, as well as training through the Humane Society of Hamilton County.

Pets Healing Vets website