An abandoned and abused Australian Shepherd mix named Mollie is credited as a “cure” for a Korean War veteran gripped by depression and the sudden loss of another beloved pet.
Korea and the “Truman year”
Joseph joined the Army in December 1947. After basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was sent to Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, California, then stationed in U.S.-occupied South Korea between 1948 and 1949. When control of South Korea was turned over to the local government, Joseph was transferred to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Shortly after the Korean War broke out Joseph was sent back to Korea for a year. He served in the 25th and then 24th Infantry Divisions in Korea until June 1951, and then served an additional year – then known as a “Truman year” – beyond his term of service.
Due to an injury suffered during his service, the war veteran was hospitalized for one month when he returned stateside. During this time, Alben Barkley, Vice-President under President Truman, visited Joseph and six other soldiers hospitalized with him. Barkley was an amateur caricaturist and, during his visit, drew caricatures of Joseph and his colleagues. This was one of the highlights of Joseph’s military career; Barkley’s caricature still hangs on his bedroom wall to this day.
Although Joseph’s military service ended more than 60 years ago, he remains active in veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, AmVets, Disabled American Veterans, and the American Legion.
“They’re my second family,” says Joseph, “and at my age, it’s important to keep up a social life. We all still help one another.”
A lifetime love of dogs
For the past eight years, Joseph volunteers with other veterans in an Honor Guard at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan. For for an even longer time – 55 years – Joseph and his family have owned dogs continuously. After he got married and started a family, Joseph and his wife adopted a small Beagle. Thus began their family’s love affair with dogs.
Over the years the couple’s home was filled with the pitter-patter of feet from five children and one or two dogs at any given time. Until recently, all of their dogs lived well into their senior years, including a Cocker Spaniel who underwent one of the first veterinary heart surgeries at the University of California at Davis to repair a defective heart valve.
After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Joseph volunteered to help rebuild homes in Mississippi. During one of his 11 mission trips there and while he was helping a homeowner shop for new kitchen cabinetry, she decided to stop at a veterinary hospital in Gulfport that was advertising available puppies. Joseph was smitten by one of the dogs, a Ridgeback he named Naegle, and decided to bring the dog back home to Michigan with him.
Naegle was Joseph’s everyday companion for eight wonderful years until one night the dog died in his sleep.
Loss of a beloved pet deepens veteran’s depression
For Joseph, a veteran with PTSD and depression, this loss was devastating. While the other family dogs had passed away from old age, Naegle’s death was sudden and unexpected, depriving Joseph of the chance to say goodbye to his faithful companion.
At first, Joseph’s wife did not want another pet. The pain of losing another dog was more than the couple thought they could ever bear again. Yet it soon became clear to their entire family, including children and grandchildren, that “Dad needs another dog” to lift him from his deep depression.
“My family made the decision for me,” Joseph recalls, “as the support of my wife was critical in this decision.”
In 2013, Joseph and his wife learned about the Pets for Patriots program and how it makes pet adoption affordable for military families. Joseph applied to join the program and his application was approved quickly. The pair soon visited Humane Society of the Huron Valley, a Pets for Patriots adoption and veterinary partner, where they met Mollie, an Australian Shepherd. Adopting through this partnership gave Joseph a 50% break on Mollie’s adoption fee and an ongoing 10% discount on her veterinary care.
Sadly, it appeared that the four year-old canine had been abused in her previous home. Mollie shook and trembled when approached by someone she did not know, especially men. She was overweight at 84 pounds, likely due to a lack of sufficient exercise in her previous home.
None of these things deterred the couple, who were touched by Mollie’s plight.
There’s something about Mollie: “greatest cure” for depression
After a 10 to 15 minute “meet and greet” at the shelter, Mollie warmed up to Joseph’s wife and the couple decided to make her part of the family. When they got home, Joseph worked on gaining Mollie’s trust by walking her three to four times a day.
Mollie never barked during the first three weeks in her new home. But soon after, the once fearful dog fully bonded with her new “parents” and began barking again, when she felt it was necessary to protect her new family or her new home.
Mollie has been a great motivation for Joseph to keep active. Weather permitting, the two go for multiple walks a day. Mollie loves chasing squirrels and flocks of wild turkeys when she and Joseph wander his family’s two-acre property.
“I never knew turkeys could fly as high as they do,” he says, “until we got Mollie.”
Most importantly, Mollie rescued the Korean War veteran from the depths of his depression.
“Mollie has been the greatest cure for my depression,” says Joseph.
As a retiree, Joseph spends about 60% of his time at home alone.
“Just having Mollie’s company and something to care for, something that depends on you,” he explains, “helps me out so much mentally.”
To anyone considering pet adoption, the Korean War veteran recommends a senior. In his opinion, the loving companionship of a pet far outweighs the pain of losing the pet later, and older pets are typically in more desperate need of saving.
“A home would not feel like a home to me,” says Joseph, “without a pet.”
How does your pet save you?