Michael is a Marine Corps veteran who, like many of his brethren, still copes with the emotional aftermath of the Vietnam war. He always found comfort with a companion dog, but it would be more than two years after the death of a beloved pup before he would open his heart to a senior dog who is equal parts sugar and spice.
A tradition of service
Michael served in the Marine Corps from 1964 to 1970, and during the Vietnam War. He was inspired to enlist because his father served in the Army for more 22 years and his uncle served for 34 years in the Marines Corps.
In Vietnam Michael was a machine gunner with the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines, a storied infantry battalion nicknamed the Thundering Third. Stateside, he served as battalion legal chief in the role of closed microphone court reporter. The job required someone with focus and meticulous attention to detail.
Yet the Vietnam veteran remains most proud of his meritorious promotions to private first class, corporal, and regular promotion to sergeant.
To this day Michael fights some of the demons from his tour in Vietnam, even though he earned his honorable discharge nearly half a century ago.
Sugar and spice
Michael has always had a companion dog. He was devastated when his Beauceron passed away in 2012. Sergeant Major Buster Woo-Woo was 12 years old, and the pair shared a uniquely close bond.
“He was my partner,” Michael confides. “He understood me, my hand signals, and my emotions.”
The Vietnam veteran and his wife went two “excruciating” years without a dog. They adopted a sickly dog that died, tragically, just a few months after they brought her home. Still, Michael’s wife insisted they try adopting once again.
Michael decided to adopt through Pets for Patriots because he believes that our nonprofit would better understand a veteran’s needs than a civilian group.
“I thought it was a worthy cause,” he says. “Veterans are a unique segment of the population and usually live a different lifestyle than non-vets. I believe Pets for Patriots caters to our special circumstances.”
In 2015, Michael adopted a senior dog – a Welsh Corgi mix named Sadie from Big Dog Ranch Rescue, a Pets for Patriots shelter partner. The organization provides veterans in our program a deeply discounted adoption fee of $50.
“I had little expectation she and I would bond,” Michael says of the then seven year-old dog. “But she was a loner, somewhat like me. She was also nasty in a mean way, so it became my mission to make her trust us.”
Michael renamed Sadie to Her Royal Sweetness Cinnamon-Chocolate Babka. She is known as Lovely Lady Cinnamon-Chocolate Babka as well, and Babka for short.
The Vietnam veteran is confident that the name change made no difference to the little senior dog. However, the two have certainly made a difference to each other.
Senior dog rules the roost
Michael and his wife do not know what kind of family Babka came from or what her life was like before they adopted her. However, it was clear that she needed some extra attention.
To this day, Babka is easily startled, does not care for cuddling, and is stressed around other dogs.
“When another dog is within sight, Babka growls and often barks threateningly,” Michael explains. “As a result, we have to walk her on the other side of the street in our own neighborhood when she is with us. Fortunately, all our friends and neighbors understand.”
The spirited senior dog is lucky that Michael and his wife are experienced dog guardians. As they learn new things about Babka they adjust their routines in order to make her happy.
“We suppose being an older pet is why she doesn’t always chase balls,” Michael observes. “But she does enjoy the occasional chew toy especially if we spend time holding it as she pulls. She’s well-mannered, clean, and a joy to be with. She has taken over the entire house as her own, even making my plush easy chair her very own bed.”
Vietnam veteran finds a friend for life
It took some time for Michael and his wife to figure out a routine that worked for their whole family, two- and four-legged. However, they knew that adopting a companion pet meant making certain adjustments so that the relationship would endure.
Since Babka is a petite and more mature dog, she has a smaller bladder that needs to be relieved frequently. The Vietnam veteran found a way to make her needs work with the couple’s lifestyle.
“Her daily routine is very well established with long walks at about 0630 and 1700, combined with shorter jaunts four or five additional times each day.”
Michael adds that timing Babka’s “outdoor excursions” with the couple’s own personal schedules has worked well.
A little “lifesaver”
Even if the senior dog can sometimes be difficult, that has not deterred Michael and his wife from loving her with all their hearts.
“Babka and I have an agreement,” the Vietnam veteran says. “We know what to expect from each other. She’s about 12 years old now, older than me, so she deserves to be a little bitchy sometimes, as I am. She does not like other dogs, but now we are inseparable. We know Babka loves us unquestionably because every time we sit together, she immediately rolls over to give us her belly to rub.”
Adopting a companion pet means accepting that animal as is; many come from previous lives of neglect, abuse or abandonment. And in exchange they love and accept their adopters with abandon.
Michael understands what that feels like – and what it means to his own well-being.
“Watching her prance around when we come home from someplace makes me feel happy. I get to laugh at her and with her,” he says, adding, “but for this veteran who still fights those demons from 50 years ago, being able to laugh and play with someone depending on your ability to sustain and protect them can truly be termed a ‘lifesaver.’”