When she enlisted in the military Sara was just a teen. She could not know that years later an abused Pit Bull would be her comfort and savior.
When life does not imitate art
Sara describes herself as an artist by nature. So in 1985 while she was a high school senior she enlisted in the National Guard with the hopes of being an illustrator.
“But as [it] is with most military training, I acquired a couple more MOS’s,” she says, referring to Military Occupation Specialty Codes.
Over the years Sara was trained in various MOS depending upon where the Army needed her. She learned and deployed new skills in carpentry, masonry, communications equipment maintenance, and other vital duties.
While in the Guard, Sara was stationed out of Golden, Colorado. A few years later she was activated and sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for training, and subsequently stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“I was the Lieutenant’s driver and got to drive a Hummer when only the military had them,” she shares. “Our platoon built tank pads and rebuilt parts of the ammo area on the base.”
For a few months from 1989-1990, Sara was deployed to Honduras. Her battalion helped build air strips, senior living facilities, and schools.
“When we went to Central America, the culture was a real eye-opener,” she recalls. “I knew very little Spanish so it was a challenge. We went to different islands and met a lot of people.”
Shortly thereafter Sara was injured while on duty and received a medical discharge. And within months, her unit and all of her friends were deployed to Desert Storm.
Settling back into civilian life can be a difficult process for many veterans. Sara navigated this transition with a a West Highland Terrier named Pippin by her side.
The 20-pound dog was a lifesaver to Sara after an accident in 2005 that left her with cracked ribs, a head injury, and lasting mental impacts. But as Pippin became ill in his older years, it prompted Sara to consider adopting a dog to comfort them both.
“I realized I was a dog person late in life,” she shares, “but it’s hard to explain the connection I feel with them.”
So while Sara loved her pint-sized pup, she vowed to consider a much larger and often maligned type of dog when she was ready to adopt. She had no idea that a neglected, abused Pit Bull was in her future.
“I swore if anything happened to him I would adopt to give a dog a chance at a good home and to fill that void when Pippin passed,” she says. “For some reason I was drawn to Pit Bulls. Maybe because they always get a bad rap – and even now.”
Many shelters are no longer breed-labeling their dogs due to the misperceptions of Pit Bulls. Their characteristic smart, loyal nature is often used against them by people who train them for illegal dog fighting and other horrific activities.
An abused Pit Bull named Peanut
Sara heard about Pets for Patriots through a fellow veteran, who adopted a pet from Macon County Animal Control and Care Center. Since 2013, the municipal shelter has offered no-fee adoptions to veterans in our program.
The Army veteran wasted no time visiting the shelter to meet potential dog candidates.
Perhaps if by fate, a five year-old abused Pit Bull named Peanut was surrendered by her family just one day after Sara was approved into our program.
Peanut had gone through some tough times of her own.
When Sara met Peanut she was a mere 50 pounds and considerably underweight.
“She had been adopted twice and dropped back off,” Sara says. “I found out that at some point she was abused in some way.”
Still, Sara knew right away that this dog would fit perfectly in her family. She adopted Peanut and renamed her Zhaan – after a character in Farscape, her favorite science fiction show.
“I do not think I would have been able to adopt Zhaan when I did if it was not for Pets for Patriots,” she says. “To have a company support us in such a way is one of the biggest gifts I have ever gotten.”
Our nonprofit is focused not only on adopting the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats to military veterans, but on making those adoptions last. That is why we have a range of post-adoption benefits that bring down the overall costs of lifetime pet guardianship. And we follow up with every adoption for at least one year.
“All the funds given to help support and get my dog, all the follow up emails and requests for pictures was invaluable and unexpected,” she says. “I loved every email.”
“…she is my child”
Zhaan settled into Sara’s family almost immediately. Now a more fitting 67 pounds the once abused Pit Bull is gentle, kind, and protective. And in an amusing twist Sara says that her “chunky monkey” defers to Pippin, who has taken the role of alpha dog.
“She was and still is so calm and loving, and a total maniac when she wants outside,” Sara says. “She lays on me or near me when I am having a bad day and still hogs the bed.”
So many animals in shelters have endured hard-luck lives. Some may have never had the opportunity to live in a home environment. Yet they still have an innate ability to heal their guardians, even as they are overcoming their own unseen wounds.
Zhaan is no exception.
“I do not have kids, but to me, she is my child,” Sara explains. “She has helped me so much, as I struggle with depression from time to time.”
Pippin crosses the Rainbow Bridge
Pippin passed away a few months after Zhaan was adopted. For a time it was as though person – and pet – were in mourning together.
“Zhaan literally laid on top of me every chance she got,” Sara says. “I can not tell you what a comfort that was. While my heart breaks for the loss of Pippin, Zhaan has been there to mend it.”
Perhaps Zhaan came into Sara’s life when the Army veteran needed her most. The big dog eased the pain of Pippin’s loss. She is ever present when Sara experiences a bout of depression. Still, the once neglected, abused Pit Bull is learning how to embrace her new life as a beloved family member.
“She has stolen my heart in such a different way than Pippin did, it’s hard to explain. I have bad days and I get angry, but she gets so close to me and just lays her head on me and it truly makes me feel better,” Sara says. “It took me a few months before she would go on walks around the block. It’s like we are both learning new things every day.”