For one Vietnam veteran, serving others is a way of life. And for the homeless dog he saved, she now has a new leash on life thanks to this kind-hearted man who dedicates himself to serve others: men, women, children and pets – with no distinction.
Andy the Bloodhound and the Vietnam legacy
Steve served as a military policeman in the 615th MP Brigade in Vietnam. They were known as the Bloodhounds and their mascot was Andy the bloodhound. Andy played a big role in the lives of those soldiers living so far away from home. He was a much needed distraction from what was around them, and provided the unconditional love and affection only a dog could give.
To this day, Steve remembers stepping onto the plane that was going to take him home, and leaving Vietnam for the last time.
“It had been a long 15 months and definitely I was glad to be coming home,” Steve recalls. “I have always been proud of my service and especially my job as a military policeman.”
In spite of having served during wartime, Steve has returned to the very place that decades ago, he was so happy to leave.
“I have been back to Vietnam now three times,” he says, “and can now appreciate the country for its beauty instead of as a place of war.”
The Vietnam veteran recognizes that his decision to go back to Vietnam – repeatedly – may strike some as a curious choice.
“It’s a hard answer, but there is definitely something that draws me back,” Steve says. “I have been blessed to be able to work with some schools in Saigon and near Dalat, and I believe that this is also part of a healing process.”
A soft spot for stray dogs
The Vietnam war long over, life back home is good. Steve has been married for 41 years, has kids and now grandchildren. In addition to a growing brood, Steve and his wife share a love and passion for pets – especially when there is a stray involved – which is how their last two dogs, both Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mixes, came to live with them.
Abby was found as a puppy 15 years ago after being abandoned, wandering alongside the highway near Steve’s house. In 2004, Tucker was featured as “pet of the week” by the local humane society. He was two years old at the time and his former owner had to surrender him because he was deploying.
Sadly, both dogs died within six months of each other. Abby was almost 16 years old, whereas Tucker was 10 and died of pneumonia.
“Needless to say, after having two dogs for so many years,” says Steve, “our house was very quiet and lonely.”
Still mourning their losses, getting a new pet right away wasn’t a high priority for Steve and his wife.
“We really didn’t plan on getting another dog soon,” says the Vietnam veteran, yet adding that “it seemed that we were always looking on PetFinder to just see what was out there.”
In truth, the couple were hoping for a dog with the same breed qualities of Abby and Tucker: an Australian Shepherd mix.
One day in early summer, Steve’s wife spotted Chelsea, a then five year-old Golden Retriever mix available for adoption at the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society. Chelsea’s picture had a Pets For Patriots badge; curious, Steve called the shelter to ask about it and the dog. He learned that Chelsea’s owner had to surrender her when he became ill and moved into a nursing home. In addition, he found out about Pets for Patriots and the many benefits to veterans who adopt through the nationally operating charity, including discounted veterinary care and help purchasing pet food and basics upon pet adoption.
Looking for Abby, Finding “My Chelsea”
Steve and his wife knew they didn’t want a puppy and Chelsea’s age sounded like a good match. They made the trip from Panama City Beach with their grandson, making sure to take a leash with them “just in case.”
Once at the shelter their grandson started “looking for Abby,” but Chelsea had other plans. She walked right to the gate and gave the little boy a big kiss on his face, winning him over immediately. From that moment on she was declared “his Chelsea.” They all played with the big dog for a while and knew that she was destined to be their new forever pet.
“She quickly settled into the backseat of the car,” recalls Steve, “and made the 65-mile drive back to Panama City like she was right at home.”
From homeless dog to diva dog
These days Chelsea has a new nickname: Diva Dog.
“She is a finicky eater and waits until her food is properly prepared, either with an extra scoop of yogurt or a hardboiled egg,” he notes. “Her bed is in our room, and she sleeps comfortably there until one of us is awake in the morning, and then she takes her place on our bed, wanting to get that last bit of sleep all snuggled.”
Although now living a pampered life, Chelsea takes her job as the family guardian seriously.
“She loves to play chase with the grandkids, and she is gentle and protective,” Steve says. He appreciates as well that she’s well beyond the puppy phase of life.
“Adopting an adult dog, one that is larger and not a puppy is a perfect fit – for retirees especially,” the veteran observes. “There is no chewing or potty training.”
Steve appreciates Pets For Patriots for the benefits he received through the organization and encourages any veteran to do the same: and adopt an adult pet who needs a second chance at life. However, the Vietnam veteran notes that Chelsea isn’t the only one whose life was changed for the better.
“Chelsea is definitely happy,” Steve says, “and to have her greet me whenever I come in makes me feel as if she’s always been a part of our family.”
How does your adopted pet make you feel grateful?