Brian has been coping with anxiety, depression, and loneliness since transitioning out of the military. The disabled veteran found a renewed sense of purpose nursing a sick dog back to health – and ultimately adopting her.
Service is the family business
Some veterans cite a singular reason or life-changing event that inspired their decision to serve. For Brian, there were many factors.
“Part of it was for economic reasons. I grew up in New York City, and it’s very expensive to live there. I wanted opportunity and knew I would need a college education, but first had to find a direction in my life,” he shares. “And I lived a mile from the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, and that was always on everyone’s mind if you were from there.”
Ultimately the call to serve was in Brian’s DNA. His family has a long history of military and civil service. His father and two of his uncles served in the military and then served their communities as law enforcement officers.
In fact, Brian can trace his family’s history of military service all the way back to the Civil War. One of his ancestors, Sergeant Timothy Donoghue, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 2005, Brian enlisted in the Army as a motor transport operator and was initially based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During this time he was attached to the 7th Special Forces Group. His unit played a vital role in moving supplies, equipment, and personnel that were essential to combat operations in Afghanistan.
With a little more than a year left in his initial enlistment, Brian accepted an assignment to the NATO command headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands. The soldier’s time abroad provided him with valuable career skills, an appreciation for different cultures, and some of his most memorable experiences from his service.
“Getting to immerse myself in the Dutch culture, learning from my coworker soldiers from many different countries, being able to travel all around Europe on my leave time and visit historical sights, and traveling to cities like Paris,” he says. “It opened the door for me to so many opportunities I never would have had were it not for the Army.”
In 2009 and after four years of military service, Brian transitioned to civilian life. He was having knee problems and was not sure they would support him if he continued to serve.
The disabled veteran moved to Colorado. He used his GI Bill benefits to earn his bachelors degree in English and his masters degree in public administration. In 2017 he accepted a job offer from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and moved to Virginia – eager to serve his fellow veterans in need.
Life after military service
Brian faced several challenges adjusting to civilian life, despite a promising career and living closer to family on the East Coast.
“I’ve always had anxiety and depression issues, especially since I left service,” he shares. “I’m a little introverted and shy, and sometimes would feel lonely at home alone. I’m also working on trying to get myself in better shape.”
Brian’s uncle Neil mentioned an interesting article he read about a man who adopted a dog. It not only helped him get into shape physically, but alleviated his depression as well.
“I thought about what he said to me,” Brian recalls, “and realized that now I was in a stable place with regard to residency and financially. I would look into it, and began looking at the local rescue shelter.”
The disabled veteran visited the Angels of Assisi animal shelter near his home in Roanoke. The shelter waives pet adoption fees for veterans in our program, and offers initial wellness shots at their full-service veterinary clinic as well.
“I just went there to look around. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want a dog today,'” he says.
While there, Brian saw a brochure about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. Still, the young veteran was not sure if he was ready for the responsibility that comes with pet guardianship. He decided to do more research.
Brian discussed the idea with his therapist at the VA. She was familiar with our program and believed that a companion dog could help Brian cope with his depression and anxiety.
It seemed fated; Brian needed a battle buddy.
“Everything was leading me back to the shelter,” he says.
The hug that said it all
Brian returned to the shelter looking for a “Beagle-type dog.” He had fond memories of the breed, calling his childhood dog “the best dog ever.”
As it turns out, it was a Pug-Beagle mix who was one of the most overlooked dogs at the shelter.
Brian was drawn to her instantly. She sat alone in a crate in the corner of the large kennel area.
Named Mistletoe at the time, the then three year-old dog had recently been rescued from a hoarding situation. In addition, she had Lyme disease and was heartworm positive.
Due to her medical issues Mistletoe was not even available for adoption, but Brian felt compelled to meet her anyway.
“The first time I met her at the shelter and took her out of her cage, she jumped up and wrapped her paws around my waist like a hug and started licking me,” he says. “It was at that moment I knew I had found the right dog for me.”
Brian decided to foster Mistletoe – since renamed Bayley – and care for her while she recovered from her various medical challenges. That in itself prove therapeutic. It allowed the Army veteran to focus on someone who needed him as much as he needed her.
Four months and many trips to the veterinarian later, the rehabilitated caramel colored pup was given a clean bill of health. The adoption was finalized.
Disabled veteran and his four-legged healer
Brian is amazed at how quickly he and Bayley have grown attached to each other. And he can tell that she is grateful to have found a loving home. Her dog bed must be right next to his recliner while they watch television together. When darkness falls and it is time for bed, the affectionate pup has something even cozier in mind.
“At night when I go to bed, she has to be laying next to me. She’s not content to just lay on top of the blanket,” Brian explains. “She’ll actually burrow under the covers and curl up next to me and won’t fall asleep unless she has at least a paw on my back or shoulder, and within a few minutes she’ll be snoring away in a deep sleep.”
The disabled veteran credits his new best friend with greatly improving his quality of life.
Physically, Brian looks forward to his daily walks with Bayley because it helps him be more active in a way that is easy on his ailing knees. Emotionally, the pup’s greatest asset is her ability to help him manage his depression and loneliness.
“Bringing her into my life has helped elevate my mood, because I know even if I’m having a bad or ‘down’ day, she’ll always be right by my side to lick me, or lay with me, and provide me with unlimited love and affection, and can turn a depressed mood around quickly.”
An always there friend
Brian recommends that all veterans looking to adopt a pet make use of the benefits that Pets for Patriots provides. He appreciates that we personally check in to see how he and Bayley are doing.
“The staff are engaged, friendly, and helpful, and seem to truly care about the veterans and the animals,” he shares. “They follow up to check in, and do a great service helping you get set up with supplies you need.”
Above all, the Army veteran is thankful that our program helped introduce him to his devoted companion.
“My quality of life has tremendously improved, and I’m sure Bayley’s has too given the situation she was rescued from,” he says. “I no longer feel lonely at home because I always have my new best friend by my side.”