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Man’s Best Friend

January 29, 2024 | By Washington Area Humane Society and WCCF

Charity: Washington Area Humane Society
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Molly, a WAHS rescue dog, happy in her home.

Genetically, humans and dogs are more than 90 percent identical.

In fact, research reveals startling physiological similarities between us and our four-legged companions, including everything from our gut microbiomes and the cellular effects of oxidative stress to the function of the limbic system, which helps to process and regulate emotions and memory. Sadly, this translates to a shared psychological burden, as well.

A growing body of evidence suggests that both humans and canines exhibit parallel responses in the aftermath of trauma–behaviors like hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.

For Denny, a Marine Combat Veteran, and Molly, an Australian Kelpie, this truth is much more than a scientific fact: It’s a real, lived experience.

More than a decade ago, Denny found himself struggling beneath the weight of his time serving our country. Overwhelmed by depression, he grew defeated, each day darkening into a future that looked opaque rather than bright. Not far away, Molly escaped horrendous abuse. A Washington Area Human Society Police Officer found her alongside a deceased dog, who, like Molly, had recently given birth. Miraculously, both litters survived thanks to Molly’s nurturing care: She kept the pups alive, nursing them despite the bleak conditions.

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On average, 40 dogs and cats are adopted out to veterans through the Pets for US Vets program each year.

Upon arrival at the WAHS, adopters quickly fell in love with the puppies–but no one wanted to adopt Molly. She’d grown withdrawn, and her physical appearance suffered from her abuse. With missing teeth, shaved fur, and visible stitches from being spayed, Molly waited for someone to notice her.

Then, Denny entered her life.

Desperate to improve his situation not just for himself but for his family, Denny and his two young sons visited the WAHS, hoping that adopting a family pet might help to calm the emotional echo of Denny’s trauma. Their search ended once they met Molly, with whom the family formed an immediate, natural, and effortless bond.

The WAHS Pets for US Vets program, which enables veterans to adopt a pet at no charge in appreciation for their service, meant Molly could be adopted that same day. Now, more than 10 years later, the family has had many adventures as they traveled across the country together. But no matter their address, Denny and Molly are always together. Loving each other. Caring for each other. Helping each other to move on from their difficult memories.

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The Washington Area Humane Society located in Eighty Four, PA.

Denny recently reached out to the WAHS to express his gratitude.

“Thank you all for what you do,” he said. “I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, but y’all change lives. You certainly impacted my life, and I am forever grateful for it.”

The science behind the animal-human connection extends far beyond the realm of tragedy. As an article from the National Library of Medicine states, “A number of studies have shown that when dogs and humans interact with each other in a positive way (for example cuddling) both partners exhibit a surge in oxytocin, a hormone which has been linked to positive emotional states.” But this only confirms what we already know intuitively, something we feel deep in our gut: A profound sense of loyalty, safety, and care exists between the two species.

With the assistance of the WAHS and their Pets for US Vets program, Denny and Molly have given each other the immeasurable gift of healing and love.

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