For more than two decades Ron had his dream job as an Army tanker, but the real joy in his life came many years later when he adopted a second chance dog with special needs.
Continuing a military legacy
Ron wanted to be a tanker since he was four years old. And at 17, he joined the ranks of not only the United States Army, but the ranks of every male member of his family going back hundreds of years of military service. His father was an Army pilot and served during the Vietnam War.
“He was the bravest guy I’ve ever known and I wanted to be just like him,” Ron says, who served for more than two decades, including time in combat.
As a 19K M1A1 tanker, Ron had three rotations in Iraq and three in Kosovo, along with various, smaller deployments.
“Every day that I woke up in the Army was a highlight, because I was able to put the uniform on,” he says. “Being able to put the uniform on every day for 22 years was the highlight of my career.”
Ron always says he always wanted a dog. He and wife, Heidi, wanted to wait until their young children were older, but during his first deployment to Iraq his desire to adopt a second chance dog increased.
“[My platoon] would see all these wild and abandoned dogs all over the place,” Ron says. “When you have a bunch of guys that are deployed, a dog is a little bit of home – a sense of normalcy.”
While home on his first R&R Ron brought up the idea of getting a dog to Heidi.
“Normally a husband doesn’t really tell his wife anything,” Ron jokes. “He might recommend, but I told my wife ‘when I get back I am getting a dog.’”
Josie was a six-week-old black Labrador, a welcome home gift for Ron. But a few years later, Ron was reassigned as an Army recruiter in the Detroit, Michigan area. They decided to leave Josie with Heidi’s mother, on her farm in Germany, until their new housing situation was solidified.
Josie’s life on the farm was good. The dog was a comfort to Ron’s mother-in-law whose child and grandchildren had just moved so far away. Sadly, she had stroke 18 months later and had to be put to sleep.
Destiny for a second chance dog and an Army tanker
Ron was in no mood to get another dog. Nevertheless, one day Heidi took him to an adoption event at the Michigan Humane Society in Rochester Hills to show him a small dog.
“I just had to put my dog down. I didn’t want one,” Ron says. “But my wife said ‘just look at her.’ They brought Pippa out, she hopped up right in my lap and looked at me with those puppy eyes, and that was it; I couldn’t say ‘no.’”
A staff member asked Ron if he was a veteran and whether he had heard about Pets for Patriots.
“It’s funny that you mention it,” he recalls saying in reply. “Yes, I have and I’ve already been approved.”
Ron had heard about Pets for Patriots a few months beforehand. He filled out the application even though he thought he did not want another dog at the time. And as fate would have it, Pippa had been found on the streets of Detroit the very same day that Ron had to let Josie go.
Like so many animals in shelters she was truly a second chance dog. To Ron, it was something more.
“I think it was meant to be,” he says.
Bringing Pippa home
Pippa – or Dandelion as she was named by the shelter – was not in the best shape. Life on the streets had taken its toll.
The Jack Russell Terrier mix was underweight, had joint problems – including a luxating patella – and little fur except for a small tuft between her ears. She was skittish and scared after being abandoned, and likely abused.
Since her adoption Pippa has become a different dog. She has all of her fur back thanks to special shampoo and oatmeal baths, proper meals, regular veterinary care and a lot of love. Her Army dad insists that “she’s all bark and absolutely no bite,” and the only thing that scares her is bowls.
“She doesn’t eat until her own bowl is down,” he explains, “and will wait to eat and drink if hers are being washed.”
While bowls are Pippa’s kryptonite, the loud cannons and musket fire of the Civil War reenactments that Ron takes her too do not seem to bother her at all. In fact, she loves being the camp dog.
The Army veteran is quick to emphasize the positive influence that Pippa has had on his family’s life, including his own.
“Having been to where I have been and having done some of the things I have done and seen some of the things I’ve seen – it’s hard to talk about to people. Most civilians don’t understand. And when you have days that are a little bit harder, Pippa knows exactly when those days are and she’s always right there.”
Pippa is Ron’s new battle buddy and the second chance dog goes with him most everywhere.
“You’ve probably heard it a million times,” he says. “I don’t know if I rescued her or she rescued me.”
The Army veteran believes there are a lot of other dogs in shelters just waiting for the same second chance that he gave Pippa. He believes as well that rescue dogs and veterans share similar characteristics.
“Almost every mall in the United States has a pet store and you see these kids pressing their noses up against cages and looking through the windows at these cute little puppies,” Ron says. “And it seems like nobody cares about the animals already out there. It’s like ‘they don’t have a use anymore, let’s throw them away; they aren’t worth anything; they’re damaged goods.’”
Similarly, Ron thinks that some civilians who are uninformed about the military think that people who have “been to war are damaged goods.” He believes that veterans – and “plenty of dogs” in shelters around the country – “deserve a second chance.”
Save a life, save a soul
Pippa has thrived since getting her second chance and does things in her own, unique way.
“When she’s really excited and running around, she drops to one shoulder with her back legs still up running,” Ron says. “Just little quirks that people wouldn’t understand and are hard to describe, but she makes you forget about your worries.”
The little dog even picked her own name. Dandelion was her name at the shelter, but she would not respond to it at home. Nor did she respond to any of the other names Ron’s family tried. Yet in the days surrounding the British royal wedding of William and Kate, one name on everyone’s lips was Pippa – the bride’s sister. When Heidi tried calling their new dog “Pippa,” the pup’s bat-like ears perked up and “that was that.”
Ron now works in the prosthetics department at the Detroit Veterans Affairs Hospital and tells everyone he can about Pets for Patriots.
“More veterans and dogs could benefit if they knew about it,” he says. “Pippa has saved my sanity a couple times.”
The Army tanker’s beloved Pippa has become so much more to him over the years, and he would love to see other veterans – and pets – know the same joy.
“The first thing I see in the morning is my dog’s face in my face and the last thing I see at night is her sleeping on my chest.”