Life imitates art
Military life takes its toll on all who wear the uniform. Even the toughest men and women who enlist will at some point reach that boundary in their minds and bodies telling them they can no longer go on.
Yet somehow, our service members find that will to push across those limitations and thrive.
That motivating factor for Kate to persevere was Beauty, a senior Belgian Shepherd. The two met at Humane Society of Tampa Bay where the Army veteran and military spouse had been a volunteer.
In a case of life imitating art, the duo’s pairing turned out to be a real-life fairy tale.
“I’m infatuated with Beauty and the Beast,” Kate says. “So Beauty was a perfect fit!”
Finding her place in the Army
Kate found herself adrift after graduating from Florida State University with a degree in sociology and religion. She decided to enlist in the Army. This gave the young graduate the “ability to flee” what was at the time a directionless life.
“[I had] no idea what I wanted to do,” she shares, despite having a “perfectionist dad who pushed all of his children very hard.”
It was 2009 when Kate enlisted in the Army as a signal officer, where she managed mission-critical communications and information systems. She found inspiration from her grandfather, a highly decorated veteran who served in both Korea and Vietnam.
The young officer was assigned to Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii after training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and attending Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia.
While stationed in Hawaii Kate met the man who would become her husband – a Blackhawk pilot.
The right stuff
Joining a male-dominated culture such as the Army can be difficult for a woman trying to fit in and prove herself. Kate experienced these challenges repeatedly, yet rose to the occasion as a good soldier does. But her desire to compete led to increased anxiety as she tried to show the members of her unit that she was up to the task.
That drive left the young veteran and military spouse with a serious hip and back injury, which in turn led to fainting spells. An endless battery of tests followed to determine the cause.
Kate’s injuries ultimately required surgery, and life became even more of a struggle both physically and emotionally. In 2013 she was medically discharged as a result of her injuries. Her husband remained on active duty.
The struggle continues
One of the most difficult jobs in the military is being a military spouse.
Soldiers are trained, equipped, and deploy with the weaponry and tactics they need to succeed. But for the military spouse who stays behind, life is turned upside down when his or her partner deploys.
In an instant, Kate became a single mother – responsible for the entire household, the children, the bills, the errands, and more. And the only training available is the experience itself.
To complicate matters Kate continued to suffer from the physical injuries and emotional trauma she sustained in service. Her husband’s deployment meant she was now living alone with their young son. She was having panic attacks and debilitating anxiety.
Sometimes the Army veteran would lie awake in the middle of the night, afraid of what lurked outside.
“I was the one having a very, very, very hard time sleeping,” she says. “I was living alone with my son in Tampa, Florida and my anxiety was through the roof.”
The Army veteran’s life changed when a then seven year-old dog arrived at the shelter where Kate volunteered.
“Medication the VA was prescribing me and counseling wasn’t really doing it,” she explains, “and I was volunteering at the humane society when this dog came in that immediately made an impact on me.”
Military spouse adds a pup to her pack
Since 2011, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay has partnered with Pets for Patriots to help the most overlooked animals in their care find loving military homes. The shelter waives pet adoption fees for our members.
In 2013, the shelter’s full-service veterinary clinic joined our program to offer ongoing, reduced cost care to our veterans’ adopted pets.
Beauty was a nearly 75-pound, senior dog who was transferred from another shelter. Her age and size not only made her a harder-to-place pet, but made her eligible for adoption through our program. Kate felt an instant connection.
“She was so perfect!”
An adoption counselor at the shelter told Kate about their partnership with us, believing that the disabled veteran would benefit from all of the support that we provide.
Kate wasted no time in applying to Pets for Patriots. She adopted Beauty the same day that we approved her application.
Beauty brings peace of mind, body and soul
Beauty’s name belies the ugliness of animal homelessness; so many dogs and cats are victims of neglect and abuse. Yet this one particular dog has had a life-changing impact on Kate, who recently relocated her young family to Fort Bliss, Texas.
Life as a military spouse is still not easy. Kate – and her family – continue to endure her husband’s multiple overseas deployments.
Beauty helps keep Kate at ease while her husband is away from home. The disabled veteran reflects on how her big, old, beautiful dog has given her back her life.
“She really was life-changing in that time I needed something so badly to make me feel safe and comforted,” Kate says. “I’d wake up during the night and stroke her until I felt calm.”
Kate is proof of Beauty’s natural capacity to calm and heal. And she plans to share the big dog’s gifts with other veterans in need.
“Her calm, affectionate nature really pulls me out of my anxiety…she’s my favorite battle buddy,” says Kate. “I’m expecting through training together [that] she and I can become a therapy dog unit working around the military and the VA.”
Kate is still learning how to deal with the everyday challenges of being a military spouse while at the same time coping with her disabilities. But Beauty is making all of that much more manageable, and is helping her veteran heal.
“She speaks to my soul,” Kate says. “She [is] so perfect. How on earth do you get that lucky?”