Disabled as a result of an injury during service, an Air Force veteran started his long healing journey – alone. But a sweet, shy hound in a prison dog training program changed everything, and the pair works daily to put their sad pasts behind them.
A proud career cut short
Jason comes from a heritage of military service. His father served in the Air Force for twenty years and, in June of 2005, Jason enlisted with the expectation that he would serve his country for the next two decades as well.
Unfortunately, the young veteran’s career as an Air Force structural mechanic was cut short when he shattered his ankle. By October of 2008, Jason’s military career was over – seventeen years short of his goal.
Now 90 percent disabled with ankle, hip and back problems, and a recently diagnosed depression, Jason admits that he still longs to serve. He would “do it all over again.” Although he misses the military lifestyle, he misses the sense of belonging even more.
“What I miss most,” he says “is the people.”
Little did he know that his path would cross with a battle buddy of a different sort – the four-legged kind – who was escaping a hard life and experiencing separation challenges of her own.
Disabled and depressed, Jason aims higher
Jason still keeps in touch with many of the people with whom he served, by internet and phone. He describes a sense of devotion and connectedness among veterans that many civilians “don’t understand.”
At the same time the Air Force veteran’s path to physical health continues. He has limited ankle movement due to it having to be “welded together,” and as a result now suffers with pain and arthritis in his leg and hip, and three bulging disks in his back.
“I will never be able to run long distance again,” he says jokingly.
Unable to work as a result of his physical disabilities, Jason succumbed to depression. At first he was in denial – about his life situation and his mental health.
“I have been working since I was twelve,” he says with pride.
With time on his hands and a deepening depression, Jason decided to take action: he would adopt a dog to help him through his bouts of depression, and give him a positive, productive way to occupy his time.
In July of 2014, the Air Force veteran visited the Humane Society of Richland County with his girlfriend and instantly noticed a beautiful adult hound mix. The dog was very shy at first and would not come out to greet them, so the couple took a different dog out for a walk to get acquainted. When they came back the big hound with the soft dark eyes, aptly named Faith by the shelter, jumped right into Jason’s arms.
From that moment forward, Jason and Faith – now named Dixie – were a bonded pair. The veteran even came up with a special nickname for his new battle buddy.
“I should’ve named her Shadow,” he says, because of how she follows him everywhere.
By adopting Dixie through the Humane Society of Richland County and its partnership with Pets for Patriots, Jason was eligible for a range of benefits to make his new pet parenthood more affordable: an adoption fee discount, a generous contribution towards ‘welcome home’ pet food and other essentials, discounted veterinary care and other offerings to help ensure that adopting his dog did not take too big a bite out of his wallet.
Leaving prison behind
Although Dixie has been acclimating well to her new life with Jason, it has not come without significant separation anxiety. It has taken many months for Dixie to realize that when Jason leaves the house he always returns to her.
As is the case with many shelter animals, Dixie had a cruel life before being rescued. Prior to her adoption, she was found tied up outside – alone, underfed and extremely malnourished.
Once rescued by the Humane Society of Richland County, Dixie was enrolled in a dog training program at the local prison. During that time she spent every single moment with her trainer, even living in his cell, but upon return to the shelter to be made available for adoption she found herself alone once again.
Since Jason adopted the big hound dog, the pair has spent much of their time reassuring one another that they are together no matter what happens. Dixie never leaves Jason’s side unless, of course, she spots any wildlife in the huge enclosure he has made for her on his property.
The sweet hound dog even knows when Jason is not feeling well. Instinctively she will give him a nudge and a cuddle. Thanks to Dixie’s love, the Air Force veteran’s bouts of depression are both less frequent and less intense. Jason understands what his former prison dog is doing.
“She tries to keep my mind on her.”
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