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Veterans hold the lead in a powerful rehabilitation program

Military service is complex, challenging, and dangerous. But returning to civilian life also poses difficulties for the men and women who have served in the armed forces. As an example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017–18 National Health Survey reported that more than 1 in 5 (22%) men who had ever served in the Australian Defence Force expressed a mental health condition.

However, a partnership between ‘Happy Paws, Happy Hearts’, a non-traditional animal therapy organisation, and Rehab Management, a leading occupational health provider that also provides support to veterans, has created a progressive program designed to guide veterans through the training of RSPCA rescue dogs.

AVN's Angelica Schroffel speaks with Happy Paws Happy Hearts CEO Zoe Black

Currently running in NSW and QLD, with a view to expand nationally over the next five years, the program focuses on veteran participants learning new skills together with other veterans, a step forward toward forging a new career outside of the defense force, while making a difference to the lives of dogs that need a forever home.

Zoe Black, CEO and Co-Founder of Happy Paws Happy Hearts, believes that working together with Rehab Management on this crucial initiative makes a difference in participants’ lives and the lives of the animals they work with.

“We truly believe that if we don’t support transitioning veterans, we as a community will lose talented and passionate people who want to make a difference. We also know that people need a strong motivation to reconnect with our community after being isolated or excluded for some time. If we don’t reach these Australians, they are left feeling ‘stuck’, and we know that social isolation is a crucial factor that drastically compounds other physical and mental health challenges.”

Kim Naylor left the defence force in February 2020 and was experiencing mental health challenges. She completed the ‘Train’ program, which is an intensive program focusing on training dogs that have a history of trauma. She then went on to the ‘Employment Pathways’ program, a more advanced program helping people transition to employment or volunteering positions. Kim says she gained a huge amount from the course so much so that she is now pursuing a career in this area.

“There’s a lot of people that need animals and there’s a lot of animals that need people,” says Kim.

“The course was really easy to follow. Once you understand why the dogs are behaving a certain way it’s much easier to train them.”

Rehab Management is an award-winning, nationally accredited, and industry-leading Occupational Rehabilitation and corporate health services provider that also provides support to veterans. Renee Thornton, General Manager of Rehab Management revealed some of the more significant improvements that participants experience in the veteran support program.

“This program is meaningful and purposeful work. When the veterans spend time with animals learning positive training techniques, the dogs show more ‘adoptable behaviours’. This often leads to participants in these programs feeling more positive about themselves, appreciating that they are involved in something that matters, through a sense of identity and belonging.”

“Proactive engagement programs such as Happy Paws Happy Hearts are quite possibly the gateway in forging a new path in life by shifting the focus for our veterans, even for a moment, and creating a community for people who perhaps need it most,” finished Ms Thorton.

For information on Rehab Management’s support for veterans, please visit

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