A two-tour Army combat veteran who lost everything when his wife abandoned him reclaims his life with the help of a rescue dog desperate for a second chance.
Injured in service and abandoned at home
In 2005, Will enlisted in the National Guard and deployed to Kosovo in June of 2006 on a peacekeeping mission. Three years later he was deployed to Afghanistan where – as part of an infantry division out of Massachusetts – he connected with some of the same soldiers he served with in Kosovo.
During his Afghanistan tour and while descending a fuel truck ladder, Will injured his back when the ladder broke free of the vehicle. Although he landed on his feet, he was in full kit, and suffered three herniated disks and one bulging disk in his lower back. Due to the severity of his injuries the Army veteran is unable to participate in drills and awaits a medical discharge.
As if his physical injuries were not enough, Will took a real body blow to the heart as well.
When he married, the veteran gained not only a wife, but a dog she brought into the marriage. This was a change for Will who, growing up in apartments, had cats throughout his life. The couple eventually decided that their Puggle needed a friend and brought an English Bulldog named Betty into their family. Sadly, Betty was just four years old when she died of stomach and bone cancer shortly after Will’s Kosovo tour. The couple adopted another Puggle named Lola, but soon after – Will’s wife left him – taking the dogs and just about everything in their home with her.
Will was left with an empty house and a broken heart.
Looking for love in all the right places
In search of a fresh start, Will decided that he needed a companion pet to help him heal and reclaim his life.
One day while searching online, Will saw a dog who was described as Pets for Patriots eligible. He researched the organization and discovered that the nationally operating charity helps veterans and military members adopt last-chance shelter pets who are most overlooked for adoption: adult and special needs dogs and cats, and large dogs.
The Guardsman applied to and was approved by Pets for Patriots, and continued his search through Paws & Prayers, a rescue-based Pets for Patriots adoption partner in Akron, Ohio that extends a 50% adoption fee discount to Pets for Patriots veterans. There he met Shae, a then three year-old Labrador, Boxer and Pit Bull mix, so named because she loves to shake hands – a lot.
To make sure he was making the right decision, Will brought his mother, who is blind, to a Paws & Prayers adoption event, figuring that one measure of whether a dog was right for him was if she connected with his mother. Shae “sealed the deal,” as Will says, and on that very day pet and veteran started their journey together.
From combat zone to comfort zone
Having adopted Shae, the combat veteran took her to a local organization for training to become his service dog. Shae passed all of her temperament tests with flying colors, except for one: she is too easily distracted by people.
Upon meeting someone new, Shae lays down and cries, barely able to contain her excitement. She’ll bat her paw at folks as if to say, “Hey look at me!!! I’m here.” The big dog is anxious to shake hands and say hello, certain people will love her. And they do.
“Everyone loves Shae,” Will says proudly.
With his new friend by his side, the Army veteran is more able to step out of his comfort zone, venturing out into public and interacting with other people in ways he was unable to do before adopting his rescue dog. Since bringing Shae into his life, he has even come to enjoy her little personality quirks.
“She has a little cat nap and then she’s ready to play,” Will says, adding, “She also hates getting out of bed in the morning.”
Each day, Will goes about his morning routine while Shae lays swaddled in his bed covers. After he finishes breakfast, Will must physically retrieve Shae from bed, and bring her downstairs to eat and go outside.
Lucky for Will, his rescue dog gives him many things to love – like how she always wants to be close, even on his lap. And those ears. They stick straight up, Will explains with a smile in his voice, “like radar dishes swinging around.”
Second chances for pet and veteran
As he rebuilds his life with his four-legged friend by his side, Will is deeply appreciative of all the ways Pets for Patriots has helped him change his life for the better.
“Pets for Patriots is fantastic!” he exclaims. “My wife took everything. I literally had an empty house, so the gifts and member benefits came came in handy. The gift certificate helped me buy Shae a bed and toys, and the adoption fee reduction helped a lot too – affordability is a huge benefit!”
In addition to the financial savings, Pets for Patriots focuses on the many wonderful, harder-to-place dogs and cats who are in shelters through no fault of their own. Dogs like Shae – a “bully breed” mix – have a particularly difficult time getting adopted.
“Shae is a Pit Bull mix. Not too many people are willing take chances on this breed.”
These days, Will no longer suffers an empty home – or heart. The combat veteran could have adopted any type of dog, but believes choosing a mature dog was the right decision. Because she has a history, not in spite of it, Shae and Will have formed an enduring bond.
“Adopting an older dog is better than a puppy,” he says. “You really do give them a second chance to start over. Whatever happened in their past, well, we’ve had experiences and so have they. You work through it together.”