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MU Study Pairs Military Veterans and Shelter Dogs To Ease Transition Home for Veterans; Train Shelter Dogs To Be More Adoptable

July 27th, 2011

Story Contact: MU News Bureau, 573-882-6211,

MU Study Pairs Military Veterans and Shelter Dogs To Ease Transition Home for Veterans; Train Shelter Dogs To Be More Adoptable from MU News Bureau on Vimeo.

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Of the 2 million United States Service members that have been in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s estimated that up to 50 percent experience combat-related issues ranging from substance abuse to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now, a University of Missouri professor is conducting a unique study that will give military veterans a “training buddy” to help them cope while helping shelter dogs become more adoptable. The Central Missouri Humane Society is supplying the dogs involved in the study.

Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI and associate professor for the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine, is conducting a study of the mutual benefits from veterans training shelter dogs.

The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) has been supported and funded through a series of grants from Mars Petcare (the WALTHAM Foundation, PEDIGREE Foundation and Banfield Charitable Trust) and the MU Research Board, to conduct a study of the mutual benefit of veterans training shelter dogs. Researchers hope this partnership between man and animal will make the dogs better family members and assist the veterans’ adjustment after returning home.

“Health professionals are seeing increasing reports of combat-related stress in returning veterans,” said Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI and associate professor for the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine. “This study benefits both ends of the leash, because we know that interaction with animals relieves stress and lessens symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not only will veterans help dogs exercise and receive necessary training, but the dogs will potentially provide stress relief for the veterans.”

The three-phased study, which started in early 2011, will be conducted in two locations in Missouri, namely Columbia and Springfield over a two-year period. Veterans are learning to train dogs in basic obedience in the first phase of the program. In phase two, veterans will be mentors to families who adopt shelter dogs. In phase three, the best of the trained dogs will be trained as PTSD service dogs to work with soldiers who need this assistance.

“To be able to train a dog that will ultimately help someone else is incredibly rewarding,” said Joe Simpson, a veteran of the Iraq war who is training the dog, Tiddly, for the study. “Tiddly’s taught me patience, and I’ve seen an improvement in my daily attitude. She is great to come home to and always gives me a boost.”

Dogs provide unconditional acceptance and love to the veterans who are training them. “People with military backgrounds possess excellent discipline skills and will be dedicated to the training. Because of their skills, they will be creating “super dogs” to be adopted by military and civilian families. Trained shelter dogs are better adoption candidates; many dogs will potentially benefit from this study.” said Johnson.

Mars Petcare is committed to making ‘A Better World for Pets™’. Extending the benefit of human-animal companionship to a broader community and to help build the evidence base underpinning animal assisted intervention, Mars Petcare has formed a partnership with the Eunice Shriver Kennedy National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to encourage peer-reviewed research into human-animal interaction.

“The great care taken by all parties involved in this study to adhere to a strict scientific protocol will help us properly evaluate and robustly demonstrate the value of this program to both the veterans and the shelter dogs, bringing mutual benefit to both,” said Sandra McCune, manager of Mars’ research program on human-animal interaction based at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in the U.K. 


About ReCHAI

Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) operates as a dynamic collaboration between the University of Missouri – Sinclair School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine with the mission of educating and conducting programs and studies about the benefits of human-animal interaction. Dr. Rebecca A. Johnson (Director- ReCHAI) has recently been elected as the President of International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO), an international organization founded in 1990 to gather together associations and related organizations of member countries interested in advancing the understanding and appreciation of the beneficial relationship between animals and humans.

Veterans who may be interested in the program are encouraged to contact ReCHAI.  For more information about this study, visit the ReCHAI website at

About The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition

The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition is a leading scientific authority in pet nutrition and wellbeing and has been advancing the frontiers of scientific research into the nutrition and health of companion animals for nearly 50 years.  Located in Leicestershire, England, the renowned state-of-the-art science institute focuses on the nutritional and behavioural needs of companion animals and their benefits to humans, enabling the development of innovative products which meet these needs in a practical way. The Waltham Centre has pioneered many important breakthroughs in pet nutrition, and in collaboration with world leading scientific institutes, supports leading Mars brands such as WHISKAS®, PEDIGREE®, NUTRO®, TRILL®, CESAR®, SHEBA®, KITEKAT®, AQUARIAN®, WINERGY® and the ROYAL CANIN brand.

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About Mars Petcare US

Mars Petcare US is the U.S. operations of the world’s largest petcare company at the privately held, family-owned Mars, Incorporated. Mars Petcare US produces some of the world’s most beloved pet care brands, including PEDIGREE® Brand Food for Dogs, CESAR® Canine Cuisine, WHISKAS® Brand Food for Cats, and THE GOODLIFE RECIPE® Brand. Headquartered in Franklin, Tenn., more than 2,700 Mars Petcare US associates make, sell and distribute its high-quality pet food from 16 manufacturing facilities located in communities across the U.S.

For more information, please visit