Angelus News Magazine
Nov. 5, a brisk early Saturday morning near the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. Diego Ortiz of PAWS/LA was standing in front of a white tarp trying to get the attention of two dozen dogs and their guardians. Since 1989, the nonprofit has been dedicated to preserving the healing benefits of animal companionship for low-income elderly and others facing life-threatening illnesses like HIV/AIDS. But today he was talking about the launching of a new program called Project Petstrong geared to veterans suffering from PTSD. And part of the kickoff was with a two-mile “pets’ hike” in the sprawling urban park.
“There are 1.9 million veterans in California, 350,000 in Los Angeles County alone,” he said. “And according to PAWS/LA estimates, there are approximately 6,000 low-income veterans with PTSD and/or depression who count on their companion animals to cope with the devastating effects of PTSD. That’s 6,000 just in LA County. That’s why we started Project Petstrong.”
Ortiz pointed out that more than two-thirds of today’s veterans reported difficulties adjusting back to civilian life. And up to 45 percent of post 9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD, with nearly 14 percent demonstrating suicidal tendencies. “As we all know, our companion animals can bring us out of the darkness,” he said. “They can take us out of that dark place, and give us a reason to live.”
Kevin Lewandowski, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who was homeless for 28 years, spoke passionately about his transformation out of that darkness and addiction. He testified how living on the street had left him with a “hardened heart.” It was during a three-year stint in two California state prisons that he finally turned his life over to God, returning to the Catholic faith of his youth.