Shelter dog helps disabled Army veteran learn to trust again

Rico barely tips the scale at eight pounds, but this once homeless shelter dog is worth his weight in gold for helping a disabled Army veteran regain her trust in others.

Army strong and proud to serve

Venice served 10 years in the United States Army as a 92Y Supply Sergeant, during which time she was stationed at various posts stateside including Ft. Lewis, Ft. Hood, Ft. Polk and Ft. Benning – in addition to serving overseas in Germany, Bosnia and in Operation Desert Storm. The Army veteran trained troops in Kosovo, as well.

Having already taken on a role with vigorous demands, Venice reflected on another physical challenge she endured during her decade of military service. Venice and Rico

“Running a Battalion S4 as a specialist while pregnant,” she recalls. “I proved to myself that I was capable of being a good soldier.”

After separating from service, Venice entered a treatment program for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A Jack Russell Terrier had been gifted to her daughter to keep her company while Venice was in treatment, but after spending two years together, the dog was stolen and never to be seen again.

Healing at both ends of the leash

“I felt guilty and bad for my daughter,” says Venice, “but I also realized how much I loved and missed him, and how important he was to me. I felt like I had to fill that missing void.”

On mental health leave from her job working with special needs students, the Army veteran knew it was the right time to extend her family and continue the healing process begun during her time in treatment.

I chose to adopt because I wanted to love and take care of a dog that needed just as much love as I did.

Venice came across Pets for Patriots “by accident” while searching online for a new four-legged family member. 

“While looking at one of the shelters in town,” she recounts, “I clicked on the link that tells you about the program, and I knew that this is the gift G-d had sent me.”

Shortly before Valentines’ Day in 2014, Venice was matched with Rico, a then four year-old Chihuahua mix, at the Texas Humane Heroes’ Killeen shelter location. The animal welfare organization - which operates a Leander shelter as well – waives pet adoption fees for Pets for Patriots members.

“A dog or cat companion animal is a positive addition to any family,” says Ron Marullo, Executive Director of Texas Humane Heroes, “and all the more special when a collaboration of organizations such as Pets for Patriots and Texas Humane Heroes can make that addition a low-cost adoption option for individuals who have served, or are serving in the United States armed forces.”

Learning to trust with her trusty sidekick

Venice acknowledges that healing is a journey, one made all the better with Rico at her side. Although small in stature, the former shelter dog has had a tremendous impact on his Army veteran. For the first time in a long time, Venice is able to engage with others in a more healthy and positive way.

“Rico is my baby, best friend, and trusted side kick,” Venice says. “He helps me deal with trusting and interacting with new people because he keeps me focused and calm.”

Ironically, “calm” is not a word that Venice would use to describe her pint-size therapist.

“He is a very active, busy little boy,” she beams, “and is so darn cute you can’t help but love him. He brightens up my days.”

Although Venice found Pets for Patriots through a link on a shelter partner’s website, she believes more of her brothers and sisters in arms should know about the nationally operating charity.

“It is an awesome program and a very positive experience,” she says.

The former Army soldier particularly appreciates that Pets for Patriots has veterans on its staff who follow up repeatedly both before and after every pet adoption.

“You don’t just adopt a pet,” she says, “you gain an extended family of vets that understand and know how pets can change your life for the better.”

In what ways is your pet your best therapy?

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