Sometimes the deep connection between human and dog makes it seem like one is simply a reflection of the other. That is the case with Eric, an Air Force veteran from Carlsbad, California, and Drax, an adopted shelter dog.
When the pair met Drax was in search of a new home while in the care of a San Diego animal shelter. Eric was originally searching for a family pet and personal companion, but Drax has come to mean so much more to him and his young family. He fills the role of protector, compatriot, and best friend – all at once.
A military career marked by 9/11
Long before Drax entered his life, Eric served nine years in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence operator. He has been stationed in Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, and Ohio across his career. After September 11, 2001 (9/11), he served with the augmented Security Forces. These specialists provide a range of protection for Air Force bases both at home and abroad.
Eric believes that 9/11 was a defining moment in his military career. After hearing about the first plane crashing into North Tower of the World Trade Center over the radio, Eric rushed to the operations center in time to witness the second plane flying into the South Tower.
“That moment solidified why I was serving my country,” he recalls. “It made me understand that there is always an adversity waiting to strike and it is up to the military to defend this country, regardless of the political games, the low pay, [or] the stress or toll it takes on their bodies.”
Today Eric works as a federal bank examiner, where he focuses on fraud and information technology programs at financial institutions. Outside of work, he coaches his son Hendrix’s little league baseball team and plays chauffeur to his daughter Aurora, whom he refers to as “the social butterfly.”
“Putting on a new pair of eyeglasses”
When Eric saw an advertisement for Pets for Patriots at his local animal shelter, it felt like a sign.
“Since the military, I have not been big on crowds and get irritable quite easily.”
The veteran soon learned that the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services provides deeply discounted adoption fees for pets adopted through our partnership. He began looking for a dog to serve as both a family pet and personal companion.
When Eric first saw Drax’s picture there was something about his eyes that he could not get past. That connection deepened when the the Air Force veteran met the then three year-old Shepherd mix in person.
“I can only describe the ordeal as putting on a new pair of eyeglasses. Drax is like the canine version of me,” Eric says.
Luckily, everyone in Eric’s family agreed that Drax was the one – including his wife’s much smaller dog.
“The final test was my wife’s little Chihuahua,” Eric says. “They walked around and drank from the same dish as if they had been litter mates. That was it.”
Fate definitely played a role in bringing the Air Force veteran and Drax together. The dog with impossibly big ears was not yet available for public viewing due to his physical condition.
“Drax had been an underweight stray with severe skin problems, and infested with fleas and ticks,” Eric recalls. “He hadn’t even earned a spot in the public viewing enclosures at the animal shelter. I had only seen the picture of him and knew I had to meet him.”
The family brought home the big dog that day. Drax was officially part of the family.
Adopted shelter dog quietly stands watch
Since his adoption Drax has been Eric’s shadow and his family’s quiet protector. He is just the kind of canine companion Eric had been seeking. The big dog seems to recognize the importance of protecting and defending his own clan.
“As cliché and ridiculous as it is to say, I do feel like he is saving not only me, but my family as well,” Eric says. “He always shadows me around the house, but still goes and checks on the rest of my family at least once an hour. It’s always fun to hear my wife or kids yell out because he sneaks up on them and nuzzles them with his cold nose.”
Drax has taken a particular liking to Eric’s son, Hendrix. The adopted shelter dog acts like his personal bodyguard, and looks after the young boy when he sleeps at night.
“He has found his place in our pack and it seems as if he has been with us since he was a puppy,” the Air Force veteran says. “He puts himself between my family and strangers, but remains open and friendly to meet new people. Once he’s sure the stranger is not a threat he starts acting like a puppy.”
A magical combination
Most of all, Eric has found a friend who seems to know him inside and out. When they are together much of their communication goes unspoken.
“I love the fact that I don’t need to speak to him, [and] he doesn’t need to bark at me. We just know each other and know immediately what the other needs.”
Drax picks up on Eric’s moods and gives him kisses when Eric feels sad or irritable. He bounces around like a puppy when Eric is in a more playful mood. The Air Force veteran cannot imagine life without this majestic dog who, for reasons unknown, was neglected and abandoned.
“I cannot go anywhere with him now without someone commenting on how beautiful he is,” Eric shares. “The thing is, he’s always been beautiful, I just loved him enough so others could see it, too. Thank you again, Pets for Patriots, the impact Drax has made on my family and I is monumental.”
Eric would like to see more veterans find comfort with dog or cat, and save more animals who are homeless through no faults of their own.
“Many veterans are in search of companionship that humans can’t provide,” Eric says.
The Air Force veteran recognizes that there are many shelter pets who can provide that companionship – and who deserve a second chance at life.
“The combination is simply magical when the veteran meets the right friend,” he says. “Each gets a little piece of humanity back in their life.”