If you spend much time with a war veteran discussing his experience, he will invariably mention how the worst part of it was losing so many of his best friends.
And, if you listen to a pet owner discuss losing a pet, you will hear a similar refrain: “I feel like I’ve lost my best friend.” It’s a sentiment tinged with sadness and loneliness – a sense of loss and being lost.
Tim Peterman knows both all too well. As a veteran of WWII who recently lost his beloved Shih-Tzu, Gizmo, he didn’t know what to do with himself without his buddy. He lost his bearings. His daughter, Sandra, saw the pain.
Just like a fellow man on the battlefield, a pet is always loyal. They are happy to see you and would give their lives for you if they could.”
“What many people do not realize is that when the veteran was in the war, the one thing he could count on was his fellow man; they became like brothers and sisters,” Sandra explains. “Veterans speak in one unified voice that they could always count on their brothers in the war as they were forever loyal. Just like a fellow man on the battlefield, a pet is always loyal. They are happy to see you and would give their lives for you if they could.”
He remembers fondly the collies on his family’s Minnesota farm helping with the cattle. Years later, at the conclusion of his World War II service, as the troops waited by the thousands in French fields for ships to return home, Tim remembers a German Shepherd who had deserted the German ranks and attached himself to an American GI.
“He knew which side he needed to be on,” he says. “We were all disappointed when he couldn’t go home with us.”
As Tim and his family grew up in San Diego, they enjoyed the company of dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits. Then, upon his retirement from the dairy industry, the succession of pets continued ultimately culminating with Gizmo, a Shih Tzu who originally belonged to Sandra and her husband, but eventually ended up with Tim and his wife, Jean.
Tim and Gizmo became inseparable, taking walks in the neighborhood, playing with a favorite red ball and taking car rides.
“The only time he didn’t try to go with us was on Sunday morning when we left for church,” Jean says. “I don’t know how he knew, but he knew he had to wait for us at home.”
Gizmo was a neighborhood favorite. Everyone knew him and, by association, Tim. Gizmo kept Tim in circulation. But earlier this year, at the age of 15, Gizmo left his buddy behind. It nearly broke Tim’s heart. But then something truly miraculous happened that brought his experience of loss full circle.
Back in 1939, the football coach at a Minnesota teachers’ college recruited Tim and to ensure he could stay in school, Tim joined the National Guard. After America’s entrance into WWII he was mobilized into active duty. After some time at Camp Anza near Riverside, California, Tim and the other members of the 540th Field Artillery unit were shipped overseas. About a week after the D-Day invasion in June 1944, his unit began its march through France and Belgium, eventually meeting up with the Russian Army just outside Berlin, where news of the German surrender reached the unit via the city’s town crier.
Tim remembers entering New York Harbor and the skipper circling the Statue of Liberty to welcome the GIs home. He then embarked on the “best train ride ever” back to the family farm. Not long after, the entire Peterman family moved to California to be close to relatives, and Tim attended a trade school on the GI bill and learned to repair refrigeration units.
One day he was called to a small college campus in Pasadena where a deep freezer needed repair. As Tim left, he saw a pretty young lady, Jean, sitting on a bench near the entrance to the college, eating a Snickers bar. She shared her treat with him and that began, as Tim says, “57 years of Snickering.”
One of their saddest days in 57 years came when Gizmo passed on. Things really changed for Tim.
“It was really hard to walk by myself,” he says. “So I stopped. I missed him so much.”
About that same time, Sandra caught a news item on TV that featured Beth Zimmerman, founder and executive director of Pets for Patriots. She was making a heartfelt appeal on behalf of another little dog and his owner, a Korean War veteran who was terminally ill. His selfless and final wish was to know where his little dog would go after he died, and he really wanted that place to be the arms of another veteran. Sadly, that wish not granted, and the Korean War veteran passed away. But Sandra heard the story and thought immediately of her dad. She knew he needed another dog to encourage his walking and to lift his spirits. She contacted Pets for Patriots.
Before long, Tim and Jean signed on with Pets for Patriots as a veteran seeking a canine companion. Sandra suggested they go visit the little dog featured in the television appeal. The family traveled to Rancho Coastal Humane Society, a Pets for Patriots adoption partner, and met the dog: a Shih-Tzu named Gizmo.
We thought he was the cutest thing we had ever seen. We fell in love right away.”
“Everyone there was so kind to us,” says Tim. “And they eventually decided we were the right family for Gizmo #2.” Two days later, three TV stations covered the completion of Gizmo’s adoption.
“He just fits in so well. He loves everyone. He had been used to being a complete lap dog and really wasn’t used to being around other dogs,” Tim says. “But as we walked and met everyone, he really changed his ways. Now he’s just like Gizmo #1, and he loves to play and ride in the car.”
And Tim is now back on schedule with those walks.
“I have about three of four different routes, and each one is about a mile,” he says. “By the time we get close to home and start down the walkway to the house, he gets very excited. I unlock the door, and he runs through the house until he finds Jean. Once he finds her, he’s satisfied and will settle down with a toy, but not until he knows she’s all right. That’s how much he loves Jean.”
“He just makes life so interesting,” Tim adds. “He does so many interesting things, and picks something new up every day.”
“I feel that because of some of the events Dad experienced in the horrid climate of war, he looks at every day as a great blessing and a gift from G-d,” Sandra says. “He has always been a very happy man. A stranger is just somebody he has not met yet. He is the real thing. He has an incredible faith that he demonstrates through his actions every day.”
Tim calls the series of events “real remarkable.” He knows someone was in control.
“The timing was just right for Gizmo #2,” Tim says. “There are so many people we want to thank. Petco and Purina have been just great to us. And we didn’t have to pay anything for Gizmo’s adoption because of Pets for Patriots. Gizmo truly is a gift – in every way.”
“We really are so grateful for this wonderful little dog.”
P.S. Tim and Gizmo qualified for Rancho Coastal Humane Society’s Senior Adoption Program, in which the entire adoption fee is paid by Purina.