Robert searched many months for the right pet. So the Army soldier was surprised that a 90-pound shelter dog turned out to be the perfect companion for his young family.
A family legacy
Robert is proud to continue a family tradition of military service that dates back to WWII.
“My family has been in the military for ages,” he says.
Robert’s grandfather flew for the Army Air Corps and his uncle served with the 7th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. His brother served two tours in Iraq and was awarded two Purple Heart Medals and a Bronze Star before retiring out of the Marine Corps.
The influence of Robert’s family legacy was strong. But he decided to join the armed forces because he felt the call to serve.
“It was something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he explains. “The whole cliché to serve the country, I guess.”
Robert initially answered that call on January 31, 2008, when he enlisted as a Reservist in the Army 74D Chemical Corps. These Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialists – or CBRN – are highly trained soldiers. They are tasked to handle and decontaminate a wide range of dangerous materiel.
During his time as a Reservist Robert led a team on missions to detect and mitigate chemicals, different biological agents, and radiation. At one point he had 27 soldiers under his command.
Yet perhaps the young soldier’s most memorable mission was mobilizing for training across Florida. It highlights the camaraderie and teamwork that many veterans miss most when they transition out of the military.
“It was the most memorable because it was a bunch of people that don’t do this every day, and essentially we did it flawlessly,” he shares. “It was all of us working together. Me as a 19 year-old kid. I got thrown into a job I didn’t even want to do, I had no problem with people, and it was a really awesome thing to do.”
Turning the page
After seven years as a Reservist Robert decided to pursue a civilian career. His journey out of the military brought him to a job installing traffic signals from the ground up. During that time he was working up to 90 hours a week to provide for his wife, Danielle, and their young daughter.
But while he was able to support his family, the Army veteran was unable to spend much time with them. It was especially difficult to miss out on being part of his daughter growing up.
“I didn’t see my kid from Thursday to Sunday.”
After three years, Robert had enough. In 2019 he reenlisted into the Army’s Chemical Corps. He is now able to spend more time with his family and secure crucial health insurance benefits that were unmatched in the private sector.
As it happened, Danielle needed major surgery shortly after his reenlistment. Robert did not have to pay a dime, thanks to the Army’s medical benefits.
The search for companionship begins
Robert and his family are currently living on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Army soldier is attached to the 502nd Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion, where his primary duty is to lead training for his company. He is now able to invest more time with his wife and daughter as well.
However, there was a family member that Robert did not know was missing – until he saw someone trying to re-home a dog in his area.
“Well, I was never looking,” he confides. “I was never in my entire life interested in German Shepherds. And it was actually somebody on post trying to re-home a dog, and I was like, ‘man, I really want a German Shepherd.’”
Robert and his wife searched tirelessly for the perfect German Shepherd from that moment on. Their search would not be easy. German Shepherds are highly sought after and relatively few enter the shelter system compared to other types of dogs.
“We were looking for months and months,” he laments.
One day Danielle went to a local shelter that partners with Pets for Patriots. She found out about our companion pet adoption program from an Army wives Facebook page. And at this shelter she found what seemed to be the perfect pup: a big, hairy dog who looked like a lion.
Rocky the 90-pound shelter dog
It was early December and Rocky was a then two year-old long-haired German Shepherd surrendered by his family. He lived previously with small children, so Danielle thought he might be a good fit for their family. She alerted her husband immediately.
“Then my wife found Rocky at the local county shelter in King County, Washington,” Robert recalls, “so I literally was like, ‘I want him.'”
Regional Animal Services of King County has partnered with us since 2013. The municipal shelter offers veterans in our program 10 percent off their already affordable adoption fees.
Robert knew that a child-friendly dog like Rocky might get adopted quickly. The family rushed to the shelter to meet him.
“So I got off work, got my kid, and got there five minutes before the shelter closed.”
“We’re taking him home”
Meeting Rocky in person confirmed the couple’s instincts that this was the dog they had been searching for so long. Still, even they were taken aback by his exotic appearance.
“Seeing the picture on the website compared to when they brought him in the room,” Robert recalls, “the picture didn’t do him justice.”
Indeed, the long-haired, 90-pound shelter dog had a look all his own. He was striking, unique, and welcoming – all at the same time.
“I didn’t even know a long-haired German Shepherd existed,” Robert says. “He looked like a lion – he had a mane. His whole body was fluffy.”
However, the real test would be seeing how Rocky interacted with the couple’s young daughter. While it is always important to make sure that a newly adopted pet is compatible with his entire human family, it is critical when young children are involved. And educating kids about proper pet etiquette is essential.
The Army soldier’s concerns were quickly set aside.
“He was just great with her,” he says, “and I was like, ‘Yep. We’re taking him home.’”
A girl and her dog
It took Rocky a while to know that he was a true member of his new household.
Robert’s “90-pound baby” was hesitant to get comfortable in the house. One challenge is that the family lives close to an artillery impact range, which frightened the big dog. So Robert got an anti-anxiety shirt through our partnership with ThunderWorks and that solved the problem.
Now, the 90-pound shelter dog is more settled in with his new family and his new life. He loves to go on walks, runs, and car rides.
“He is the biggest car rider I’ve ever met,” Robert observes.
Rocky has even kept the whole family active. He makes sure to wake Robert up for his morning walks and loves to play fetch for as long as his family will let him. And despite his size, Rocky is an “escape artist.” Recently he climbed over a fence.
But beyond the car rides and endless games of fetch is Rocky’s relationship with the couple’s young daughter. That alone is worth the big dog’s weight in gold.
“He’s great with my daughter. She has behavioral issues and ADHD,” the Army soldier says, “and having the dog has helped her because when there’s no one to play with, she always has a friend.”
“He loves everybody”
Even though Rocky is an active dog he is equally happy to simply relax with his people.
“You can sit out there and throw the ball with him for five hours if you wanted to. He’s always got energy. But still if you wanted to have a chill day and sit around the house, he’s chill for that too,” Robert says. “He is the most go with the flow kind of dog. Whatever you want to do he’ll do it.”
The big dog’s versatility is a big asset to this young military family. Like many people who adopt, Robert and his wife fail to grasp how anyone would surrender such a wonderful animal.
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to get rid of him,” he wonders, “Other than being a one-dog kind of dog. He does not like animals – period – but people, babies, men, women, it doesn’t matter. He loves everybody.”
Rocky the lionhearted
As the Army soldier gets to know his four-legged charge he is getting clues about his prior life. He knows that Rocky lived in a family with young children, but suspects that he may not have received a great deal of attention or affection.
“I don’t think he was loved or allowed to do anything,” he shares. “He would look at you for approval to do something.”
But everything has changed with time – and love. The 90-pound shelter dog inserts himself into nearly every family affair. He wants to be close to his people and knows he is a permanent part of this family.
“Now he’s your tail. Wherever you are, he’s gotta be,” Robert jokes.
The Army veteran did not expect to get a pet, much less one that is such a perfect fit for his household. But thanks to a 90-pound shelter dog with the looks of a lion, his life and family have changed for the better.