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By Susan Vallem

“Members of TCA already know how valuable our pets are to us.  They are part of our lives.  I learned how true this is when I went to New York City a couple of months after the World Trade Center attack to provide disaster mental health services.  While I did the usual assessment and assistance with people suffering from depression, anxiety and post tramatic stress disorder, I found myself more and more wishing that I could have brought along my therapy Siamese cat.  The discussion of pets appeared frequently in our discussions.

I worked with several people who had lost almost everything and had only their pets left.  Their homes, jobs, colleagues, sometimes family members, and often hope were gone  They hung on tenaciously to their pets for support.  They also worried because their pets showed signes of trauma as well.  Somehow, however, the value and needs of the animals were not considered of primary importance.  Disaster relief does not generally cover cat or dog food, and it certainly doesn’t cover Veterinary expenses.  The ASPCA did cover food and Vet expenses for service dogs, such as guide or seizure dogs.  And some pet food was donated by pet food companies.  However, the mental health value of people’s personal pets was, in my estimation, undervalued.   I am able to share a few examples.

One woman’s road to recovery came when she began to care for several cats that were displaced in the aftermath of the fall of the towers.  She had been the kind of person who took care of her neighbors, but had been disable in the collapse of the towers.  She was depressed about the 9/11 events and about being generally confined to her house.  As a true cat-lover, she began to reach out with food and tenderness to three very frightened and hungry cats.  The cats, in turn, bonded with her and gave renewed purpose to her life. Another women had difficulty sleeping at night.  Her large Golden Retriever seemed to be her only comfort and security.  Her depression became deeper when she discovered an abnormal growth on her dog’s chest.  My fear was that she would become suicidal, and her dog was the one strength she had to hang onto.  Without him she said that she had nothing else-no job, no insurance, no other means of support. She and I worked hard to find a Vet who would provide pro-bono care for her dog, who had become as important to her as her own life.

We saw on television the work with the rescue and recovery dogs, and pet therapy animals used to assist workers.  However, animals are an important part of our own daily lives and contribute often unmeasured benefits to our mental health.”  

Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing this with us, as all of us heal from the trauma! Surely therapy pets are unsung heroes, who deserve greater accolades. Reaching out to others and their pets is what gives so many positive rewards. 


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