Sometimes all it takes is a rescued dog to ease the invisible, but heavy burden carried by our combat veterans. This is one such story from Jason, a dual Army and Marine veteran, and how his rescued dog changed his life for the better.
From battlefield to homefront
I have been a dog lover all of my life.
I remember almost every dog that ever followed me home from my paper route as a kid to the brave K-9 Marines I crossed paths with in Afghanistan. I currently live in Utah and do marketing for a large physician pain practice. I do have to say: I am a bit of a private person and hope that you understand that I really want to focus on dogs and their impact on combat veterans who continue to carry a pack well after the rounds have stopped flying.
I have spent over 20 years in the military, from starting out as an enlisted soldier in the Army to a Major in the United States Marine Corps. I have done multiple combat tours while serving in the Marines including Iraq, the South Pacific and Afghanistan. With all the time I have spent in the military, I do have to say that the core of our military might is not from the generals or colonels: it feeds from the enlisted Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen. They sacrifice so much to bring our nation’s might to bear on foreign soil and usually end up paying the price of carrying the heavy burden of multiple combat tours, returning to home feeling out of place or distant from family and friends who once had so much in common with them.
Leadership earned, not given
I can tell you from the officer perspective that you do not ‘fall-in’ to your very first platoon and have immediate respect from those Marines.
You have to earn it, although there are some who would argue that the rank you wear on collar should demand this from day one. This is not true; the Marines need to know you will do everything in your power to not only reward them, but also drive them to do their best and correct them in a professional manner when they need it. Once they know that you have ‘their back’ they will run to gunfire to do their duty under your leadership, and this has never changed.
A dog to help carry the burdens of war… and a legacy
I knew that dogs got me through tough times in the past and that this ‘weight’ that I carry around these days could be eased with another beautiful Australian Shepherd. I had a dog already that, simply put, is amazing. Haas will turn 16 this August and I wanted to somehow carry on his legacy. He has had some setbacks with a stroke, vestibular disease, blindness, deafness and just getting old, but he carries on every day, rain or shine. We could learn a lot from his dedication and loyalty. Now Javi-Lynn will learn from him and inspire me while doing it.
[Javi-Lynn honorably adopted Jason through our partnership with the Utah Animal Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, where members of our program receive a 50% adoption fee discount, bag of pet food and slip leash collar.]
As Haas is now older, he can only be groomed at a veterinarian’s office. When I dropped him off for the first time after I returned from Afghanistan I saw the Pets for Patriots flyer.
I had heard about Pets for Patriots before, but it just hit me that day: this is something I need to do for myself. I stared at the flyer for several weeks even before I logged onto the website. Then slowly I began my search, and then one day I saw a picture of Javi (at that time, Zelda) and knew that she was ‘the one.’
Javi is young and full of energy. We had the usual occurrences of chewed up shoes, books, etc. For some reason, this did not bother me at all. I knew that was just a starting point to begin to train and spend time with her. I knew she would give me back just as much and more, and in turn would ask very little from me. She sleeps on the bed with me and knows when it is time to get up and start my day. She runs wild for some time then settles down as I prepare for the day, and casually goes into her kennel on her own when I emerge fully dressed and ready to go.
She makes me smile every morning and somehow knows that I changed her life for the better, much like she has changed mine. She is my dog and loves my daughter, but at the end of the day she knows that her job is to be at my side.
I can’t convey how much this has improved my life.
I know that my Haas dog will one day very soon will leave my side and join all those other dogs who have impacted my life, from childhood to adulthood, but now he can do it knowing that I will be taken care of for many years to come. I see this in his eyes every day. Although blind, his wisdom is still expressed in the dark eyes that once tracked tennis balls, frisbees and wildlife as they flew through the air.
A combat veteran speaks from the heart
You deserve this.
I know that many of the veterans think that this is not for them, but this is exactly what you need. This is not a charity; it is a compassionate organization that truly believes in the power of pets and how perfectly they fit into a veteran’s life who still carries the pack.
A pet can help ease the burden, share in pain and heal wounds that my not have a visible scar.
I highly recommend adopting a pet through Pets for Patriots; it can improve and even change your life. Never a judgment, they [pets] can listen for hours, give you that look that tells you everything is going to be all right.
How does your pet make your life a little better each day?