Life after the military can be filled with uncertainty. Many veterans feel lost and alone after separating from service.
Brian is a disabled veteran who was looking for fulfillment, and salvation from a gnawing loneliness. His search led him to a starry-eyed Beagle named Tommy who would quickly become his savior and trusted companion.
A life at sea
Brian is retired from the Navy. He served for more than 20 years after starting his military career in a different branch of service.
“I enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years when I was seventeen, then I got a Navy ROTC scholarship,” he says. “Went to UNC Chapel Hill for four years and went into the Navy after finishing.”
Joining the armed forces opened up the world for Brian. It offered “advancement opportunities, benefits, and a way to get out of a small town.” He soon found himself doing a variety of jobs in a number of interesting places.
“I was stationed in Japan, Hawaii, San Diego, and Norfolk,” he says.
Brian experienced many deployments over the course of his long military career, including a dozen to the Arabian Gulf.
More than two decades in the Navy gave Brian too many memories to count – yet some endure.
In 2010, he was among those helping to organize the United States military response following Haiti’s devastating earthquake. He will never forget witnessing the impact of the disaster on so many peoples’ lives.
Companion pet adoption as the only option
After separating from service Brian was “facing some medical challenges” that made him feel disconnected from the things in life that used to give him pleasure.
“I’m a disabled veteran so I no longer have the ability to do some of the things I used to enjoy,” he shares.
The Navy veteran’s wife works all day, and her absence only added to his sense of loneliness.
Then something unexpected happened. Brian met Thomas, an adult Beagle mix who soon became his “companion in life.”
At the time, the disabled veteran was a volunteer at the Humane Rescue Alliance when a friend told him about Pets for Patriots. But Brian’s wife was not sold on the idea of getting a pet. He confesses that it took a long time to win her over.
“Yeah,” he says, “that was a multi-year conversation. She was deluged by me with pictures of dogs for years.”
Eventually, Brian persuaded his wife that a companion pet might ease his loneliness. Or perhaps he simply wore her down. And his volunteerism at the shelter only confirmed his instincts to adopt a pet, not shop for one.
“It was something good for the dog and good for person,” he says. “In a sense, it saves two lives.”
The eyes have it
Through his work at the shelter Brian noticed that most people gravitate towards younger pets. Still, the disabled veteran was not looking for a much older dog, but knew that he did not want a puppy.
Brian and his wife decided that any dog they adopted would have to be at least two or three years old. But there was one particular pup who was older than the couple were considering – and yet who caught Brian’s attention anyway.
Thomas – or Tommy – was in the care of the Humane Rescue Alliance’s New York Avenue campus. It is one of two such Humane Rescue Alliance shelters that offer veterans in our program a 50% adoption fee discount when they adopt a program-eligible dog or cat.
By this time Brian’s wife was more open to considering a companion pet.
“She finally started warming to the idea, and then I showed her a picture of Tommy and it was love at first sight,” he says. “She said there was something in his eyes…She loved him.”
Need somebody to love
Tommy is a sweet, brown-eyed boy with a decidedly mellow attitude towards life. Brian describes him as having a “calm demeanor,” noting that he “takes everything in stride.”
The dog was almost six years old when he and Brian were adopted. He had been surrendered by his previous guardians and was not tolerating the innately stressful environment of an animal shelter. The staff arranged for a foster family to care for him, but they were unable to keep him for very long.
Tommy’s uncertain circumstances were creating some issues of their own. Brian observed that he was starting to scratch til his fur fell out, most likely due to stress and insecurity.
In some way, person and pet were each coping with their own medical challenges. Both were lonely. The ingredients for a strong and enduring bond were already there.
By adopting, Brian believed that he was saving Tommy’s life. And in time the sweet Beagle would return the favor for the the Navy veteran.
Disabled veteran embraces life again
Brian realizes that life will never be the same as it once had been. His disability makes it impossible for him to enjoy many of the activities that had given him so much joy.
But these days the retired veteran has a new source of happiness in his beloved Tommy.
Neither are ever alone anymore. They have a new daily routine and do a lot of things around the house – together – while Brian’s wife is at work. And every day, the pair are “out and about” in the neighborhood.
There is little doubt that Brian saved Tommy just when the soulful-eyed pup needed a savior. And while Tommy was not exactly what Brian had in mind for a pet, he turned out to be just what he needs.
“Tommy has had a very positive impact on my physical and mental well-being.”