Bill is an Army veteran and now disabled. He was at a low point in his life until he adopted a traumatized shelter dog named Baby Girl who transformed his world.
The pair were our 1,000th adoption, made in the final days of 2015, and celebrates everything we love about matching pets with patriots.
‘From a boy to a man’
With the support of his family, Bill enlisted in the Army in 1969. He had just dropped out of high school and needed something to ground his life.
The experience would prove to be transformative.
“It changed me from a boy to a man,” he says. “It was the one thing that made me grow up.”
Bill thought that he would fare better in the Army. At least, that was the impression he received from the recruiters.
“I didn’t want to be in the Air Force because I didn’t want to fall out of the sky,” he explains, “and I didn’t want to drown in the Navy.”
The teenager did not know it at the time, but life in the Army would mean facing both of those fears. He can still recall his nerves during his first airborne exercises.
“They screamed at me all the time during training,” he laughs.
Bill began his military career as a combat engineer. In short, his job was to be anyone the Army needed him to be and the terrain was usually hostile. It included building things, destroying others, and camouflaging buildings and equipment.
“Anything to do with support of the troops in the field,” he explains, was a part of his work.
Some time later Bill’s Military Occupational Specialty code – or MOS – changed. He became a power bridge specialist, and was trained to work on a new and secret amphibious vehicle.
“These were boats that had wheels that could be taken inside the hull of the boat,” he explains, “and you drive to the place where you want to work with them.”
Bill came to earn the title of pilot and served as a crew chief on recovery boats. The young veteran enjoyed the opportunity to travel all over the world even though he was not thrilled to be on the water.
“If someone sank a boat or [became] wrecked we would go out in the water and try to save them and retrieve them,” he says. “Since the unit was new, we did demonstrations for different governments, to show what the machines could do to different armies.”
During his tour of duty, Bill was deployed to Germany, Italy, South Africa, Israel, and Vietnam.
The invisible wounds of war
After separation from service as a specialist 4th class Bill married, remarried, and became a father of two lovely children. He began working in construction to support his family. Eventually he made a career change to law enforcement.
Bill served as a police officer for the General Services Administration and as a deputy with the United States Marshals Service.
The Army veteran is now retired and married for the third time, to a school teacher. One of his children lives just a few miles away and an adult granddaughter lives close as well.
Yet despite having a loving family nearby, Bill began to struggle with mental health issues. He confides that with military service “there is potential for trauma and depression.”
‘Twas a night before Christmas and all that was left was a traumatized shelter dog
One day Bill contacted the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, where a staff member suggested that he get in touch with Pets for Patriots. Since 2011, the shelter has partnered with us to help the most overlooked dogs and cats in their care find loving military homes.
The organization waives pet adoption fees for our members and offers them a 10 percent standing discount at their full-service veterinary clinic. Bill admits that he was open to the idea of companion pet adoption – but skeptical.
“I wasn’t hoping to adopt anything, but [my wife] said I was too grouchy,” he says.
One December evening just before Christmas Bill and his family – their poodle included – visited the shelter. Bill’s granddaughter brought his attention to a little Chihuahua-Rat Terrier mix named Babe.
“Almost all the pets were adopted out except for her,” he shares. “She came up to me and hasn’t left since.”
Babe, now named Baby Girl, was malnourished when she was admitted into the shelter. She shivered constantly and had seizures. It was suspected that the then four year-old dog might have experienced a head injury due to abuse.
Yet it was the traumatized shelter dog and her vulnerability that made an impression upon Bill. He felt compelled to adopt her.
“I feel that she was very, very needy,” he observes.
With the stroke of a pen on the adoption contract, Bill and Baby Girl became our 1,000th adoption. Even though the Army veteran describes the experience as almost fated, it is hard for him to explain how he knew she was the one.
“She’s not exactly what I wanted – she’s not a big fancy breed,” he admits. “For some reason she just got in my heart.”
Today, Bill cannot imagine life without Baby Girl.
“I think we are perfect for each other,” he says, adding, “She can’t get enough love.”
The Army veteran recently started coping with some serious physical challenges. He is blind in one eye and requires a walker. But having Baby Girl at his side has helped him cope, including all of the emotions that came with losing the function of his legs.
“The comfort of a companion is just overwhelming,” he says of his always-there friend. “We are constant companions. She hasn’t even wanted to leave.”
The pair does just about everything together.
“She walks with me, she drives with me, she goes to the river with me,” Bill says. “She puts her foot on the door handle and rolls the car window down, and when she gets cold she rolls it back up.”
But Baby Girl is not a one-trick dog: she winks, smiles, watches television, and grooms her own nails. The Army veteran marvels at her intelligence.
“I know she reads,” he jokes. “I think if I told her to go cook dinner, she would.”
While the little dog’s smarts and obedience are part of what makes her such a joy, Bill is most grateful for her companionship and unconditional love.
“She makes you laugh. She makes you happy.”
The best therapy has four paws
In September of 2017, Bill moved back to his home state of Missouri where he hopes for more positive changes in his life. He has already made plans to take Baby Girl fishing, an activity he remembers fondly from his youth.
“When I became handicapped I didn’t want to do anything, now I’m getting more mobile,” he says. “I want to do things again.”
Bill considers Baby Girl’s support to be similar to that of a therapy dog.
At Pets for Patriots, we know the extraordinary powers of “ordinary” shelter animals are often enough to meet a veteran’s physical and emotional needs. Bill understands this, and wishes more members of the military would consider adopting a companion pet.
“If more vets would come forward and use your service, I think there would be a lot less mandatory treatment for our vets,” he says. “Go visit the shelters and I can guarantee you that one of those animals will catch your eyes and your heart, and it’ll be the best thing you ever did.”
Bill is glad he took a chance on adoption and is grateful that we were there to make the process so easy. Like many veterans we serve, he appreciates the personal follow up we make for every adoption.
“Everybody I talked to with your organization has done just outstanding,” he says. “I can’t say enough. I am nothing but thrilled with everything that happened.”
But in the end, the real magic is with Baby Girl. This tiny dog who was once the victim of someone’s anger is now a savior to the man who met her that fateful night before Christmas.
“I didn’t adopt her, she adopted me,” Bill shares. “Without her I would have probably lost my mind.”