There has always been a special connection between animals and humans. From the bond you see between an owner and their pet to the affects therapy animals have with their patients. Recently the study between animals and individuals with disabilities have been growing. From therapy dogs to interactions with gentle wildlife, there have been positive outcomes all around the world. Recently we learned of a new form of therapy animals for veterans in Florida.
Right in our own back yard a new study has been developing and it may not be one you would expect. Located at the George C. McGough Nature Park in Largo, Florida they have specialist that care for injured raptors. Recently with the help of the raptor program director, Patrick Bradley, they opened up the Avian Veteran Alliance. This program allows veterans to come up close with these wounded hunters and connect with them on a level that was never before imagined. Recently Steve Dittbenner, a Vietnam Air Force Veteran who was a falconer in the 1970s, visited the park to experience these majestic animals first hand. Steve currently suffers from Parkinson’s, a mild form of dementia, and is wheelchair-bound. Before staring the program he felt like there was very little to look forward to and was living in a hospice facility.
The first time he was introduced to one of the raptors his wife noticed a different twinkle in his eye, she saw hope. Bradley insisted that they come the following day for another visit, what happened next they were not prepared for. Bradley contacted a local motorcycle organization, the Patriot Guard Riders, who honor local veterans. The group met at the hospice center and escorted the Dittbenners back to the park where they were given a flag and saluted from every member of the organization along with local volunteers. This moment touched the Dittbenners and provided encouragement for Steve as well. Since starting these visits in November of 2015 they have noticed a tremendous improvement. He is no longer in hospice and has a new outlook on life, he leaves the park every day with a smile on his face.
Bradley believes what contributed to his improvement and so many others is the natural involvement in nature that you experience when working with these animals. The relationships these Veterans are creating with the raptors not only removes them from the normal pressures of everyday life but it also acclimating them back into society. It introduces them to others who love and have experienced the same things. The organizers of this program hope to be able to open it up to not only Veterans but anyone who is in search of therapy. After being contact by state Rep. Chris Latvala, Bradly hopes addition funding would become available to make this dream come true.
If you are a veteran living in Florida and need assistance with a VA benefits claim, we are here to help. Contact a Bosely & Bratch Florida veterans disability attorney at (800) 953-6224 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.