Video: Vets and therapy dogs

Army veteran Donald Birdsong says working with rescued dogs gave him a boost when he needed it most.

"They are a little on a parallel track, in the sense that they have suffered some setbacks in their lives emotionally and sometimes physically," said Janice Triptow, manager of behavior and training at Safe Humane Chicago. "So the marriage of these two populations is interesting and I think heartwarming."

VALOR's eight-week pilot program finished in November, when five veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps learned training techniques and socialization skills to help the dogs become more adoptable. All of the veterans in VALOR are part of Thresholds, a Chicago-based provider of recovery services for people facing mental health challenges.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, "more than 1.3 million veterans received specialized mental health treatment from VA for issues related to mental health." The 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress estimated that 49,933 veterans were homeless in the U.S. on a given night in January 2014.

Christa Velbel, VALOR co-founder and a Safe Humane Chicago volunteer, said the goal of the program is "to use this magical but scientifically documented human-animal bond to take people and dogs who have been through a lot of difficulty and a lot of pain and make their lives happier again."

Donald's Army experience

Donald Birdsong discusses why he joined the Army in the 1970s.

VALOR's next eight-week training session begins Monday and will include five more veterans. Learn more about this endeavor here.