Program connects veterans, shelter dogs

Those who have served in military have chance to adopt a companion for free

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CEDAR RAPIDS — After returning home from Iraq, Joshua Chambers’ thoughts often would turn to the wartorn nation.

But in a moment, his service dog, Comley, would be there.

“He knew a lot of the time I was struggling,” Chambers said. “When I put my hands on him, I was able to calm down because I had that sense of security with him.”

Chambers, a Marine Corps veteran, deployed four times to Iraq — the first time in 2003, and the last time in 2008. In 2009, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Chambers said he felt himself improve whenever Comley was around. So much so that after Comley died from cancer in November 2015, Chambers said he knew he needed a new dog.

Thanks to a new program at Cedar Valley Humane Society, Chambers was able to get his new companion for free. The program, dubbed “Pets for Vets,” was launched this year to provide dogs to 15 military veterans.

So far, six dogs have been adopted, including Sophie, the part-German Shepard, part-border collie who went home with Chambers.

The dogs are not certified therapy dogs, according to Preston Moore, development director for the CVHS. They instead are meant to serve as companions.

Chambers, though, said he plans to use his dog as a service animal.

“She’s been outstanding,” Chambers said of their time together so far.

The “Pets for Vets” program was made possible by a $5,000 grant awarded to the organization by the Gerald T. and Karen J. Knox Fund through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. The grant covers the cost of adoption fees, enrollment in the shelter’s seven-week obedience class, one free veterinarian exam, and a free month of health insurance for the dog.

“The value dollar wise is great anyway, but more importantly a lot of these (veterans) have come from so far,” Moore said. “You just see in the look on their faces that they’re so happy to be treated well, and they’re happy to be taking home a friend.”

Chambers said he has been encouraging other veterans to take advantage of the program, which he hopes will continue to grow.

For more information about the program, contact the CVHS at (319) 362-6288 or visit

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