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Beth Zimmerman spent years working in architecture and as what she calls a “solopreneur.” However, with a drive to help veterans and service members and a passion for pets, Zimmerman started her nonprofit organization to help bring our nation’s heroes and shelter pets together for companionship.
Having no direct military tie herself, past generations of the Zimmerman family have served. Captain Jacob Joseph, a relative of Zimmerman, was just 22 years old when he died in action at Guadalcanal while serving in the Marines during World War II. After learning this, Zimmerman felt the calling to serve those who have served and combined it with her love for helping sheltered animals. In 2009, Pets for Patriots started with just Zimmerman and her computer.
“I was doing the dishes, which is where I’m ashamed to admit I get my best ideas, but it’s true,” said Zimmerman. “I just had this idea flow through my head– ‘pets and vets.’ I kept mulling it over time and did a lot of research. I knew, growing up with pets, how wonderfully, naturally therapeutic they are but how important they could be in the life of veterans at any stage of their careers.”
“[Veterans and shelter animals] are two very different populations, but their needs are very complimentary for companionship, unconditional love, acceptance, and healing,” said Zimmerman.
After its humble beginnings, Pets for Patriots has grown its presence to 45 states and have currently assisted over 3,700 veterans in finding shelter animals who may have been returned or overlooked by the public for many reasons. “We partner with shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies, and municipal animal controls to help them adopt out the more overlooked dogs and cats in their care to military veterans who join our program,” said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman serves as the hands-on leader of the 501(c)3 charitable organization to a small team of other passionate individuals. She handles strategy, operations, branding and marketing, fundraising, outreach, and grant writing.
Pets for Patriots differs from other organizations that help veterans or active-duty service members connect with potential pets. “We’re different in a few key ways,” Zimmerman said. “To the best of our knowledge, we are the only nationally operating nonprofit that serves military veterans from World War II to those currently in service from all armed forces that focus on the most overlooked shelter animals, specifically adult special needs and chronically homeless dogs and cats.”
“We also just want to emphasize further that we’re not about service animals,” said Zimmerman. “We find that a well-matched companion pet, family pet, personal pet, whatever words you want, have helped many of our veterans who are coping with post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and integration back into civilian life.”
“We’ve tried to remove as many barriers as possible for veterans to make it as easy for them as possible,” said Zimmerman. The adoption process is simple, and Zimmerman emphasized that their team handles every step from beginning to end, and the process is free. You can learn more about the adoption process on their website.
When asked what advice she had for others looking to start their nonprofit venture, Zimmerman said :
“To start a nonprofit, first of all, make sure that what you are looking to do is appropriate for a nonprofit versus a for-profit or B corporation. A lot of people think, ‘oh, I’ll start something, and I’ll make it a nonprofit that people will donate to.’ Donations don’t just happen. They don’t just fall out of thin air.”
You can learn more about Pets for Patriots on their website.