Animal Trainer Clarissa Black created Pets for Vets, Inc. in 2009 as a way to say thank you to our nation’s heroes. The organization brings together two of her greatest passions – helping Veterans and saving animal lives.
With a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from Cornell University and a Masters in Anthrozoology from Canisius College, Clarissa has always been fascinated by animal behavior and the power of the human-animal bond. She began her career by working with elephants and dolphins, where she learned advanced animal training principles and applied them to husbandry, veterinary, research, and program training.
Clarissa eventually shifted her focus to professional dog training, where she was able to apply many of these same lessons and training principles to man’s (and woman’s) best friend. During this time, she developed personalized training and behavior plans that helped set both the owner and the dog up for success using positive reinforcement techniques.
While consulting on therapy dog work in the company of America’s Veterans and wounded soldiers, she saw firsthand how important animals can be in recovery. She watched their positive reaction to her own dog, Bear – smiling and joking that they wanted to take him home with them. After witnessing the powerful role dogs played in the recovery of these troops, the idea of Pets for Vets was born. If one hour a week with Bear made such a difference, how much more of an impact could a Veteran’s own pet make? By pairing Veterans with shelter animals, it was clear they would each receive the second chance they deserved.
Pets for Vets was founded with both the Veteran and the animal in mind. Because of Clarissa’s personal experience with PTSD, she has the ability to recognize what each Veteran needs from his or her companion. To ensure that these needs are met, Clarissa designed a unique matching process called the Super Bond™, which helps create an instant, lasting connection between animal and human. Her years of experience and knowledge give her insight into the type of training each animal needs. The positive reinforcement training philosophy she developed encourages the Veteran and his/her pet to work together in a mutually beneficial way based on trust and respect instead of force.
Founder of Pets for Vets Wins Cigna GO YOU Award
BLOOMFIELD, Conn., December 02, 2013 – The founder of Pets for Vets, a non-profit organization that matches shelter pets to armed forces veterans and trains them to be companion animals, has won the Cigna GO YOU Award.
Clarissa Black, an animal trainer, founded Pets for Vets after she visited VA Long Beach Health Care System veteran’s health facility with her dog, Bear. She saw the positive effect a dog can have on veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions. The organization now has 19 chapters in 17 states.
The GO YOU Award comes with a $50,000 Cigna Foundation grant for Pets for Vets. Black said she will use the money to form additional chapters in other states and to match more shelter pets to veterans.
“For us at Cigna, one of the best parts of the GO YOU Awards process has been connecting with individuals who’ve turned their personal passion into effective action. To know that Clarissa will now be using her GO YOU grant to transform that passion into better lives for even more of our veterans is especially exciting,” said David Figliuzzi, executive director of the Cigna Foundation.
Facebook users chose Black as the GO YOU Award winner via an online vote held November 4 to 11. She was one of four nominees for the award, all of whom previously received $20,000 Cigna Foundation grants for their charities. Black and Pets for Vets won handily with 70 percent of the Facebook vote.
When informed of the results, Black said, “Bringing our brave veterans together with some wonderful animals is reward enough, but it’s always energizing to know that people appreciate what Pets for Vets does. I want to thank everyone who voted, and to thank the other GO YOU Award nominees. We’re all in this for the same reason: helping others!”
The GO YOU Award honors the pioneering spirit of innovative individuals who create or build nonprofit organizations that contribute to personal, family and community health. The award is an extension of Cigna’s focus on encouraging people to be true to themselves and meeting their individual needs.
About Cigna and the Cigna Foundation
The Cigna Foundation is a private foundation funded by contributions from Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) and its subsidiaries. The Cigna Foundation supports organizations sharing its commitment to enhancing the health of individuals and families, and the well-being of their communities, with a special focus on those communities where Cigna employees live and work. To learn more about Cigna®, including links to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, visit www.cigna.com.