Rocko was a bait dog found wandering the Michigan streets until Brian threw him a lifeline. It did not take long for the abandoned Pit Bull to save the Coast Guard veteran’s life in return.
Service runs in the family
In February 1975 Brian followed in his older brother’s footsteps and enlisted in the Army. But military service was more than just a family affair; it was a way for Brian to move beyond his Midwestern roots and see the world.
“[I] joined to get away from a small town,” he shares, adding that he “always thought about the military.”
Brian’s enlistment would be life changing in many ways. It was during this time that he met Julia, the woman who is now his wife of more than 40 years.
By the summer of 1978 Brian received his Army discharge. He and Julia relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he sought stability by working for a financial company. The change in venue was a mostly positive experience.
However, adjusting to civilian life was a challenge for Brian. Like many veterans, he had grown accustomed to the disciplined culture of the military.
“I was used to a routine,” he shares.
“Jack of all trades”
While civilian life was serving him well, Brian decided it was time to return to something more familiar. So after a five-year hiatus from the military he enlisted with the Coast Guard as a boatswain mate (BM).
These professionals are tasked with a wide range of responsibilities that require expertise in navigation and deck seamanship. Still, the variety of roles that BMs fill is daunting.
“Jack of all trades and master of none,” Brian says wryly.
Over the course of his military career Brian served across the United States, and was deployed to Grenada aboard the Charlevoix Cutter Mesquite as well.
However, the now retired Coastie’s most memorable experiences took place during his assignment to Washington, D.C. where he worked in recruiting for the Coast Guard.
The nation’s capitol was a “melting pot,” and it was a place where Brian and his young family would enjoy life in the capitol.
Returning to his roots
In 2004 Brian retired from the military after more than 25 years of service to our nation. He and Julia settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the next chapter of their lives together.
In his spare time Brian loves to cook. His particular passions are smoking meats, and making homemade salsas and barbecue sauce.
And the retired veteran still enjoys a daily routine he has maintained for 43 years: making his wife her morning coffee.
Together the couple has two adult daughters, Heather and Ashley. Rescue dogs have always figured prominently in their home life as well.
Brian and Julia are “big time animal people” and believe in adopting companion pets.
Little did the couple know that an abandoned bait dog would be the next member of their pack.
Rocko the survivor
By the winter of 2020 Brian was ready to look for a pet. His search led him to his local animal shelter, Humane Society of Huron Valley.
Since 2011 the shelter has been one of our original partner organizations. It offers veterans in our program half-off adoption fees for program-eligible pets and 10 percent off fees at their full-service veterinary clinic.
At the time Rocko was a stunning four year-old Pit Bull-type dog. He had an ebony coat with patches of white fur on his chest and paws.
Brian was struck immediately by the dog’s appearance and demeanor.
“He was beautiful,” he recalls, “and looked like he owned the place.”
However, beyond Rocko’s good looks and brave face was a sad, ugly tale. He was abandoned and found wandering the streets. His ears were cut up badly. The humane society staff suspected that Rocko was used as a bait dog.
Bait dogs are used to test the mettle of fighting dogs. Once they are no longer needed they are either killed or left to die from their injuries.
Animal fighting is a felony in every state in the country and is a federal offense as well. Still, cruel, cowardly individuals engage in this bloodsport for entertainment and money.
Rocko is among the lucky ones; he was found before he died from his wounds. But the hard life did not end for Rocko once the shelter rescued him. He was adopted out, but his new guardians kept him kenneled for eight hours a day, resulting in sores all over his body.
Eventually Rocko was returned to Humane Society of Huron Valley where he would ultimately meet Brian and Julia.
And on February 29, 2020 – leap day – the abandoned dog went from homeless to home.
Bait dog to the rescue
Rocko is making up for the hardscrabble start he had in life. His new home sits on four acres, giving him plenty of room to run and explore. He has people who believe his life has value and who love him immeasurably.
“He’s beyond spoiled,” Brian says, adding, “He’s nuts, and a great security system.”
The former bait dog has nothing but love for his new family in spite of the horrific treatment he received at the hands of criminals who left him to die. That dogs like Rocko have such a capacity to love is testament to their resilience.
More than a decade ago, 47 dogs were rescued from the dogfighting ring run by former football player Michael Vick. The rehabilitation of these dogs changed the perception many people had about animals who had been abused so heinously.
Rocko defied similar expectations right from the start of his new life with Brian. This time, it was the retired Coastie who needed a hero of his own.
“The third night after adopting Rocko, during the night I had a sugar low and could not wake up,” Brian recalls, “and Rocko kept barking and pushing on me until I got up.”
Some people shy away from pet adoption because of concerns about an animal’s past or breed composition. Brian did not shrink from either. He visited the shelter with an open mind and a loving heart. In return he found a dog who needed both.
The retired veteran is humble in his decision to rescue a downtrodden bait dog who would save him as well.
“Just giving him the love and care he deserves.”