Joan Tiefel is the Director of the new Cleveland Chapter of Pets for Vets, dedicated to Joan’s brother Howard (pictured with Joan). Howard served as a medic on the front lines of Vietnam.


There’s a new organization in town that creates successful matches and new beginnings. If you think it’s a matchmaking service, you’d be right. And wrong. It’s the brand-new Cleveland chapter of Pets for Vets. Joan Tiefel, the chapter director explained, “We are very excited about the opportunity to work with our U.S. military veterans as we move forward to match them with our local shelter dogs to provide companionship for the veterans and save the lives of so many wonderful dogs!”

Founded in 2009 by animal trainer Clarissa Black, Pets for Vets now has nearly 30 chapters in 22 states. So far, the group has matched more than 300 veterans with companion animals (mostly dogs but also a cat or rabbit here and there). The only other Ohio chapter is in Columbus.

A lifelong dog lover, Joan dedicated the Cleveland Chapter of Pets for Vets to her brother, Howard, who served as a medic on the front lines of Vietnam.

Joan stressed that Pets for Vets places companion animals, and not service animals. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, usually to assist a person with a disability or medical need. A companion dog provides unconditional love, comfort and support. That might sound like the job of every family’s pet dog but only certain dogs can be a Pets for Vets dog, and many steps are involved.

Joan explained, “Before they (the national Pets for Vets organization) allow you to become a chapter, you have to have three approved trainers. They only accept about 20 percent of those that apply. It can only be a trainer who uses positive training methods and they have to have a lot of experience. We are very fortunate to have six approved trainers. Some more-established chapters do not have this many.”

These trainers hail from the west and east side of Cleveland and, together, they have relationships at many area dog shelters.

Any U.S. Veteran who lives in the Cleveland area, is able to take care of a pet and could benefit from having a pet, is welcome to apply for a companion dog at In addition to completing an application, the process includes phone and in-person interviews and home visits. Once the Pets for Vets team gets to know a veteran, they set about finding the perfect dog in a thoughtful, deliberate approach.

“We work with many different shelters,” said Joan, as she explained the process of “interviewing” dogs to find animals that will fit each veteran’s lifestyle, habits, preferences, home situation, personality and needs. Pets for Vets calls it the Super Bond approach.

Pets for Vets trainers train each chosen dog for his or her specific veteran using a positive-reinforcement training philosophy based on trust and respect, instead of force. The Pets for Vets team also teaches the Super Bond philosophy to veterans, as they prepare for life with his or her new companion.

“I used to sit at home and let life pass me by but he has motivated me to live again.” said one veteran about his companion animal from Pets for Vets

A staff sergeant suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and physical injuries, who was plagued by nightmares, high anxiety and hyper vigilance said his companion dog helps him stay calm, and relax in large crowds.

No matchmaker could ask for more.

Kick-off fundraiser on April 12

The new Cleveland chapter of Pets for Vets is holding a kick-off fundraiser April 12 at the Tanglewood Club (8745 Tanglewood Trail, in Bainbridge). Chapter founder and director, Joan Tiefel has dedicated the chapter to her brother Howard, who served as a medic on the front lines of Viet Nam. Howard lives in Las Vegas but will attend the April 12 event, which begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person and include Hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and dinner. The event will also include auction and raffle items donated from businesses and individuals across Northeast Ohio and there will be a short video presentation about the Pets for Vets program and some of the successful matches they have arranged. Inquire about donating raffle items, or purchasing tickets by calling Joan at 330.348.4000 or Sue Overholt at 440.552.7042, or by emailing

Visit for information about becoming a Pets for Vets trainer or volunteer. There is a “donate” button for donating online. Supporters are also welcome to send checks (made out to Pets for Vets) to Pets for Vets, 8584 East Washington St., #115, Chagrin Falls, 44023. Pets for Vets is a 501(c)3 organization and donations are tax deductible.