Lou Lewis is an expert on two things: dogs and military service. As a retiree of the US Army and dog mom to five greyhounds, she decided to combine her knowledge and give back to veterans in need.
Lewis and 9-year-old Petey are a popular pair among the veterans of Nashville, Tennessee. When the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to their in-person visits, the duo went virtual to ensure Petey could still see his pals. They hope to return to face-to-face encounters soon.
Lewis adopted Petey, a retired racing Greyhound, seven years ago via the Music City Greyhound Adoption program. From there, the two trained as a therapy team with Music City Pet Partners, a volunteer therapy animal organization.
“I had a visit yesterday, and one of the Veterans said, ‘I could just talk to Petey all day long,’” Lewis told VAntage Point, the VA newsletter.
In addition to online chats, Petey is trained to maneuver around wheelchairs and walkers, as well as remain calm in times of crisis he might encounter while visiting the VA medical center. Lewis understands the lingering stress veterans face firsthand.
“I can relate to some of the experiences these Veterans have had,” Lewis said. “I’ve served during the Vietnam era, like some of them. They know my rank, which was First Sergeant, and they’ll call me ‘Top’ or salute me.”
She also knows that dogs have a unique way of easing tension and reaching even the most damaged souls. Lewis told VAntage Point about a special patient who had difficulty speaking. During a visit with Petey, something incredible happened.
“I went in and said, ‘This is Petey, he wants to be your friend,’ and the patient was able to say the word ‘dog,’” she said. “I’ve got goosebumps right now. It just shows you the power of what animals can do for people.”
On another visit to the local VA, Lou and Petey came upon a veteran who wanted to read a story to Petey from his Guide Post. The name of the story was We Will Survive. After reading the title, the veteran looked down at Petey and said, “Petey, you are helping me do that.”
In addition to providing emotional support to Lewis and countless other veterans, Petey also helps Lewis stay physically healthy by increasing her activity through walks and training.
Pet Partners, the organization that trained Lewis and Petey, helps promote health and wellness through animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education. They established a partnership with VA in 2019.