Underdogs have always tugged at Brandon’s heart. But the Air Force veteran was unsure if he was ready to adopt again after losing two family dogs in quick succession. A hard luck senior dog changed his mind.
A legacy of service
You could say that Brandon was born to serve.
“My dad was in the Navy and my grandfather was in the Army,” he says. “I met with a recruiter from each branch. I liked the Air Force more than the other branches.”
The young recruit was just 17 when he entered the Air Force’s delayed enlistment program (DEP), known as the delayed entry program as well. He knew at the time that college was not the right path for him and had his parents’ blessings to enlist.
“I was very undisciplined in terms of academics,” Brandon shares, “so I felt like the military was the best choice for me at that time to offer me what I needed to set myself up for success going forward.”
Thirteen months after entering DEP Brandon went to basic training. He would ultimately train to enter the security forces, the largest career field in the Air Force.
These professionals are tasked with a wide range of law enforcement, security, and policing duties on military bases around the world.
Brandon would grow up quickly.
After completing his advanced training the teenager from Evansville, Indiana was assigned to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The young airman spent the bulk of his Air Force career stationed at Ramstein.
But after the September 11th attacks Brandon deployed to Qatar, to a base used to launch bombing missions in Afghanistan.
Tensions were high and Brandon was part of the base security detail.
“High stress, quick decisions,” he recalls, “those types of things that come along with being a police officer.”
And it was very, very hot.
“I felt like the sun was two feet away from me.”
While Brandon was not exposed to combat he was nonetheless serving in a conflict zone, where life was unpredictable.
“It wasn’t a war zone from the stand point of bullets were flying, but it was high stress from the standpoint of the unknown,” he says. “Like you didn’t know what could happen, so that kind of always stays with you.”
Being in a constant state of vigilance takes a toll. The physical, emotional, and mental strains of war often impact even those who serve far from the front lines.
“Once you’re under that much stress for that long a period of time,” Brandon shares, “it starts to weigh on you.”
Brandon deployed previously to Bosnia – a less hostile, but still stressful environment. He provided security for landing and departing aircraft, as well as general base security.
The young Air Force veteran had a very memorable tour of duty.
It was a time of tremendous personal growth to be so young and shoulder such sobering responsibilities in some of the most intense conflict zones in the world.
No place like home
Brandon separated from service after his tour of duty and returned home to Evansville.
“My dad had recently been diagnosed with cancer,” he shares. “So once I separated I felt compelled to go back home.”
Returning to his roots was a good choice for Brandon. He got to spend time with his father as well as with his aging grandparents. Being home for a time eased the often difficult transition from military to civilian life.
The young veteran used his GI Bill benefits to attend college. And because he was the child of a disabled veteran he received additional benefits, including through the state of Indiana. His grandparents insisted on paying for his textbooks each semester – an added bonus.
So while Brandon’s transition was not difficult financially, it was a challenge socially. Being in the military made him more disciplined in many ways that benefited his new life as a student. But having served in the Middle East during wartime gave him a perspective not shared by the mostly younger student body.
“I was in school with 18 year-olds and I was 23 at the time,” he explains.
Not only was Brandon older than his classmates, but his military experiences made him mature beyond his years.
However, Brandon’s determination paid off. He earned a master of safety management from the school of public health at a nearby university. He parlayed that years later into his current job teaching emergency management and business continuity in St. Louis, where he lives with his wife and young family.
Brandon has always loved dogs. Underdogs and those with special needs, even more.
The Air Force veteran and his family had two Boxers, one of whom had to be laid to rest due to cancer. Within six months their other dog collapsed suddenly when a tumor burst during a walk. Brandon once again made the difficult, yet humane decision to lay the dog to rest.
“It’s a tough call having to put a dog to sleep,” he says. “And I had to do that twice in six months.”
Brandon’s emotional wounds were still fresh when his daughters came across Sissy during a reading event at APA Adoption Center of Missouri.
The shelter has partnered with us since 2017 and offers veterans in our program $25 off adoption fees.
At the time, Sissy was an eight year-old Boxer mix with huge, soulful eyes and a slightly graying muzzle.
Brandon was reluctant; his heart was still broken. When his daughters called him at work he simply said, “I don’t know.”
Third time is the charm
Still, Brandon did not want to disappoint his daughters so he visited APA Adoption Center of Missouri the next day. The staff brought Sissy into a private meet-and-greet area for Brandon to get acquainted with her.
“She was the only dog in the whole shelter that wasn’t barking, which was a decoy,” he says, “because she barks all the time now. I think she just knew how to work the system in the shelter.”
Brandon learned that Sissy had been surrendered twice to the same shelter. He knew that she would have a hard time finding a home after being returned twice and being a senior pet as well. If ever there was an underdog, Sissy was it.
“We were kind of suckers for special needs dogs,” he says.
Sissy came right up to Brandon during their visit together. Encouraged, he had his daughters join him to see how the older dog would interact with them. The aging dog shined and the rest is history. She went to her new home and got a new name: Mildred, or Millie for short.
The idea of buying a pet rather than adopting was never an option for Brandon and his family. His previous Boxers had been adopted as well.
“It’s good to give dogs another chance,” he says.
Mildred has proven herself worthy of that opportunity. She is equal parts family protector, cuddle buddy, and companion. And Brandon is fine with that.
“Her main role is to let them [family] enjoy her company, and to pet her and snuggle up on the couch with them. She offers that to the highest degree. She excels at that like nobody else,” he says. “She will not move until you move.”
The family’s love for Mildred is without question. The girls dress her up for Halloween, and share their bed and couch for cuddles. And she is an excellent listener for Brandon, who loves having long conversations with her.
Recently the family received heartbreaking news. Mildred was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy. It is a progressive nervous system disease for which there is no cure.
“She’s been pretty resilient,” Brandon says. “She’s relearned how to walk downstairs, relearned how to walk upstairs. When she walks down the stairs she hugs the side of the wall so that if she falls, she falls into the wall.”
Brandon has placed rugs on hard floors that Mildred can no longer navigate safely. But for the most part, this wondrous underdog seems to figure out how to get around on her own.
The Air Force veteran – no stranger to resilience himself – is impressed with Mildred’s fortitude.
“It’s been kind of interesting to watch how she’s adapted to understanding that there’s something wrong with her back legs she obviously doesn’t understand.”
How quickly or slowly the disease progresses will determine how much time now 11 year-old Mildred has left. Already she has left an indelible mark on Brandon, as well as the rest of his family.
“She is a good dog to have conversations with, go on walks, she’s a good protector. She definitely benefited [me] to having somebody to pet when things aren’t going well. She’ll snuggle up next to you and fall asleep on the couch with you,” he shares. “Her unconditional self. That’s really all she wants to do, just lay and sleep next to you on the couch.”
Pets for Patriots
Brandon will miss his four-legged shadow when it is finally time for Mildred to bid her family goodbye. To this day she follows him everywhere; he is her ‘run to’ person in the household.
And while the Air Force veteran could not have imagined adopting a dog so soon after laying his two Boxers to rest, he knew he made the right decision rescuing Mildred. He appreciates that Pets for Patriots gave him the flexibility to choose a program-eligible pet that suited his family and their lifestyle.
“Pets for Patriots let us pick out our own dog and let us decide which dog best fit our needs as a family,” he says.
We reached out to Brandon upon learning of Mildred’s diagnosis to offer support through our hero fund for veterinary care. This program provides financial support for pets in our program who need life extending or palliative care, where the cost is beyond the veteran’s means.
Although Brandon did not need the help, he knows that we are there for him and Mildred – years after their adoption.
“I don’t feel like I’m a name lost in a database somewhere,” he says.
“…a lazy dog who just wants to snuggle”
Mildred is yet another example of the benefits of adopting the underdogs, including older pets.
It is extremely rewarding to give a dog or cat a second – or third or fourth – chance at life. And more mature pets can easily fit into the tempo of their new homes. Mildred brings welcome calm to a household that includes two young, rambunctious children.
“Mostly she’s a lazy dog who just wants to snuggle.”
Brandon has always championed the underdogs and is a fierce advocate for companion pet adoption.
The Air Force veteran encourages anyone who is considering adding a pet to their lives to adopt, not shop. And he hopes that other people consider adopting underdogs like Mildred.
“There are some really great dogs out there. Bring them home and let them live out their retirement on a couch with a family that is going to treat them right, and feed them and love them, and take them for walks,” he says.
“I don’t think you can ask for much more than that from a dog.”