Hoosier Heroes: Pets healing vets suffering from PTSD

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NOBLESVILLE – The wounds of war aren’t just physical.

Sometimes you see it in their eyes – a sense of pain or longing. It’s the same look you’ll see in eyes of shelter animals at the Humane Society for Hamilton County.

“Shelter animals are very damaged internally, so are veterans that suffer from TBI or post-traumatic stress,” said Justin Morseth of Carmel, an Iraq war veteran who suffered from PTSD.

“It started off slow,” said Morseth’s wife, Megan. “He would bring his knife with him to the bathroom at night, and didn’t like to stop at stoplights, that kind of thing.”

And when they had their first child, Morseth continued to struggle.

“Most fathers feel that joy (but) he was immediately brought back to some really horrible memories of some children in Iraq and went home and disappeared for a long time,” Megan said. “I only found years later in a therapy session that he went home just to end his pain.”

“I just kind of dealt with the internal demons for a long time,” Morseth said.

But then, Justin and Megan noticed there was something that might help.

“Even at the beginning, we sort of noticed that being around our rescue dog Sampson kind of calmed him and it would bring him to sort of a better place,” said Megan.

So the Morseths decided maybe these rescue animals could help other veterans too, and that’s how they came up with the idea for Pets Healing Vets.

“It made me realize as time went on, and as Justin’s struggles became a little worse, that we needed to extend this concept out to other veterans,” Megan said.

“We’re kind of both rescue animals, very misunderstood by society,” said Justin.

“There’s this healing power that happens between them that is unsaid and doesn’t require words,” said humane society director Rebecca Stevens. “It’s really remarkable.”

Greg Sexton of Noblesville feels the same way. Sexton said his rescue dog, Patton, helped him and his family transition after Sexton’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“She knows when I’m upset and stuff like that,” said Sexton. “If I have a bad day, she knows. She’ll come up to me love on me stuff like that.”

“You know the dogs don’t judge you, they don’t talk to you, they’re still going to love you no matter what,” said Morseth.

While Pets Healing Vets uses rescue animals, other groups like The Path Home and Out of the Boxx try to connect veterans with full-fledged service dogs for those who need them.

All the organizations provide the service to veterans at no cost.

“Just being able to find a dog that loves me back,” said Sexton. “That’s probably the main thing.”

“The memories and nightmares aren’t there as much anymore so that’s been good,” said Morseth. “We’re just really grateful.”

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