You don’t have to have a service dog to enjoy the benefits of having a dog (in fact having a service dog if you don’t need one is damaging to the service dog industry). Simply owning a dog and taking care of it can be an incredible form of companionship, fulfilling responsibility, and ultimately a sense of profound catharsis.

First of all, owning a dog is a larger responsibility than the majority of Americans realize. A staggering amount of dogs suffer from anxiety of all sorts, and their owners don’t even know it, or they play it off as “cute excitedness” of some kind. Dogs think and act very differently than humans, and we often wrongly ascribe human characteristics to them which can be both inaccurate and damaging. Before getting a dog, the prospective owner should understand their responsibility over another life and research accordingly. The owner also simply has to be in a place in their lives when they can realistically take good care of a dog — something that takes a lot of time and attention to do properly.

With that said, veterans like myself have found great joy in having a dog. They love you unconditionally and for many veterans, the fact that they are not human and that they can’t talk is partly what makes them so lovable. Despite what I said above, they do have some basic human qualities — the good ones — and lack all the complexities that can make people so difficult (that’s not to say that dogs are perfect, but you get the idea).

They also take a fair amount of work. Unlike a cat, you have to let them out to go to the bathroom several times a day, and if you live in an apartment, that means going on a quick walk. They require constant exercise — if you’re thinking of getting a military-type working dog breed, you’d better be taking that thing out and running it every single day. They are constantly pining for your love and attention, and of course they want to play just about any time they’re not sleeping.