Calm, cool canine helps Army veteran make connections

A homeless canine with a cool demeanor was just what one Army veteran needed to step out of her comfort zone and start making connections with “the best friend I could have hoped for.”

Cats before canine

Mary grew up in Maine and joined the United States Army after graduating high school in 1978. She was sent to Massachusetts, Texas, and Georgia, and spent two years in Germany working in military intelligence at a post on the East German border. She continued moving around after leaving the service in 1982, and while she had grown up with dogs in the family – mixed-breeds, a Beagle, a German Shepherd – and liked them, she wasn’t yet ready for a dog of her own.

Determined to have some pet companionship, however, Mary got involved with cat rescues. In addition to her own cats, became a home to felines with special needs. 

Although loving her role as cat caretaker, in the summer of 2013 Mary decided it was time to add a dog to her household. The Army veteran had recently lost several of her senior, special-needs cats, which was emotionally hard on her. Her work schedule had settled down as well, freeing up time to devote to a dog. Mary was attracted as well to the protection and sense of security that having a dog would provide.

The eyes have it

Mary learned about Pets for Patriots by following the nationally operating charity on Facebook. She knew the program made it more affordable for veterans to adopt the most overlooked shelter animals, and was very pleased to learn she qualified. With the objective of finding a dog in the 50-pound weight range, she went to the Delaware Humane Association, a Pets for Patriots adoption partner, to meet the eligible canine candidates. There she met a dog named Roller, who would later be known as Rocky the Magnificent. Rocky the Magnificenet (Mary)

The first thing Mary noticed about Rocky was his “peanut-butter colored eyes” and the calm way he watched her.

The second thing the Army veteran noticed was that Rocky weighed more than 50 pounds – a lot more. Rocky weighed 95 pounds and appeared to be a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, or Chessie. The shelter estimated that he was between four and five year old. Between his size and age, Rocky was one of millions of hard-to-place pets entering shelters around the country every year.

Mary visited Rocky every day for a week, sitting with him and talking to him. The cool canine seemed to understand everything being said to him, and continued to impress the Army veteran as a “really mellow, gentle, sweet” dog.

On August 9, 2013, Mary and Rocky  the Magnificent became family.

Stay calm and carry on

Working in military intelligence, Mary moved around frequently and developed a certain ‘keep to yourself’ quality in her dealings with other people. Her work with rescue cats only reinforced that sense of isolation, but Rocky – short for Rocky The Magnificent – required the Army veteran to step out of her shell. He compels her to embrace the lighter side of life when she’s feeling most anxious.

“I was stressing about getting something done against a tight deadline and he demanded a walk instead,” Mary recalls, “At first I was annoyed, but a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and I was good to go. Focusing on the big picture and relaxed, I beat the deadline by an hour.” 

The big dog immediately settled in and not only accepted Mary as his person, but embraced the neighborhood and many of the residents as ‘his’ people as well. Mary and Rocky

“The whole neighborhood knows Rocky,” Mary says. “He loves children, and one day recently he had six small kids petting him and talking to him as we were on our walk, and he just sat there with his big Chessie smile.”

An equal opportunity gentleman, Rocky is a cool customer with Mary’s cats, too. Several of the cats have become his special friends, and will curl up and sleep nestled within his nearly 100-pound frame. Mary believes that her well-mannered rescue dog understands that they are helping the special-needs cats.

“He is smart, funny, kind,” she says, “and compassionate. I couldn’t ask for a better companion animal.”

Rescue dogs a special breed

Mary encourages any veteran who is considering pet adoption to consider a rescue animal. There is a special quality to rescue dogs, she believes, to which veterans can relate.

“They have a survivor quality,” she says, “and as veterans, so do we.”

Soon, Mary plans to attend an upcoming annual gathering of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever rescue group; naturally, Rocky will join her. There, the Army veteran hopes to learn more about the breed she has grown to love, and is proud to show off Rocky the Magnificent to other Chessie owners.

Drawing from her intel skills, Mary divines that Rocky loves being part of her family.

“When I put his collar on every morning, he’s so happy,” she says. “He knows we’re going to start our daily routine.”

With Mary, Rocky has found security and the home every shelter pet needs. For her part, Mary has learned to live in the moment more and to be more social, something she now enjoys with her ‘perfect gentleman’ at her side.

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