Tom is a Navy veteran who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and physical health issues, but through healing and prayer connected with a little shelter dog named Turbo.
A life of service inspired by a hero
Tom remembers when he was about three years old. His brother Bob was serving in the Navy and had on his Cracker Jack uniform – the old bell bottom blues – and was carrying Tom on his shoulders. Even then, Tom knew at that time what he wanted be – and do – in life.
“He’s sixteen years older and my hero. He is the reason I went into the Navy,” he explains.
On September 20, 1974, Tom enlisted straight out of high school, barely a month after his 17th birthday. After taking various test batteries the recruiters told him which jobs he was eligible for; he decided to become a Machinery Repairman, later being meritoriously advanced to First Class Petty Officer, Surface Warfare (MR1-SW).
“They wanted to put me on a submarine and I said, ‘that ain’t going to happen,’” he says with a laugh. “I ended up riding on the subs anyways.”
Throughout Tom’s career he had the opportunity to work on ships, submarines, aircraft carriers, and even the USS Stark. He left the ship three months prior to the missile strike that claimed the lives of 37 of his brothers-in-arms. He plans to attend the 30th Anniversary reunion of the strike late in 2017.
The Navy veteran enjoys many wonderful memories of his time in service, including having celebrated his 18th birthday while deployed to Japan, and spending time with his brother while they served simultaneously at Whidbey Island, Washington. However, his most special memories did not have anything to do with his military service.
“When my kids were born in Jacksonville, that was the most exciting and mind-blowing thing in my life,” Tom says. “I was lucky I made it [to the births] for all of them.”
Along came a little shelter dog
Tom always wanted a dog. Yet long after his separation from the Navy he had a hard time maintaining the stability necessary to care for one.
“I wanted to get a dog, but I was floundering so much and didn’t feel like my life was stable enough,” he explains.
The Navy veteran was being treated through the Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health system for his PTSD. His therapist suggested that having a companion dog might bring him some comfort.
After a series of failed marriages and turmoil in his work life, Tom turned a page when he married his current wife and soulmate, Jerri. Finally, he had the stability he needed to consider companion pet adoption. In May of 2011 the timing seemed just right.
“I remember that night,” he says with vivid recall. “I asked Jerri that if we invited G-d into this, if G-d would pick the perfect dog for us.”
Tom and Jerri prayed on it and went to Prairie Paws Adoption Center, a shelter that joined Pets for Patriots as a shelter partner about the time that Tom was ready to adopt.
The couple wanted to look at Turbo, a two year-old Chihuahua and Dachshund mix, or “Chiweenie.” Named Mona at the time, she was found as a pregnant stray. Turbo gave birth at the shelter and all of her puppies were adopted out, but she had not yet found a home of her own.
“We walked up and she had an American flag bandana,” Tom recalls, “and we knew.”
Prairie Paws Adoption Center even waived the adoptions fees, vaccinations, and microchip, only requiring the Navy veteran to get Turbo spayed within 30 days of her adoption. Tom was in for a surprise when he took her in for the procedure, finding out the little shelter dog was again pregnant. Sadly, none of the four puppies survived.
New life with an “old soul”
Although Turbo was just a bit over two years old when Tom and Jerri met her, the sweet little shelter dog had already endured a difficult life. In some ways her past mellowed her. It made her more mature than her years.
“As dogs go, Turbo is an old soul. She’s just that kind of girl.”
Turbo goes everywhere with the couple, including to the VA hospital to cheer up other veterans. From his own experience, Tom understands that the bond with a companion pet is of particular benefit to veterans who are coping with both visible and invisible wounds of their service.
“Dogs tug on you a certain way that people can’t. When I get emotional about stuff, Turbo immediately comes over and gets in my lap,” Tom says. “I talk to her a lot of times about things.”
Turbo has not been without her own struggles. Recently the little shelter dog started to bump into things around the house. She visited two veterinary ophthalmologists and ran up a hefty bill. The twenty pound rescue has been battling hypothyroidism for the last half-year, as well. At their veterinarian’s suggestion, they adopted a young rescue dog to help keep Turbo active. So far, Astro has done her job.
Fortunately Tom signed up for pet health insurance after adopting Turbo, which takes some of the bite out of big medical bills.
“Turbo has been a huge part of our life,” he says, “it’s hard to see her muzzle going grey. The reality is she isn’t going to outlive me.”
Still, Turbo is in good health and there is little reason to believe she will not be enjoying life with her Navy veteran for years to come. For his part, Tom is surprised at how much this little shelter dog has become a part of his everyday routine.
“We take time in the morning and love on her, rub her belly, pet her, for about 15 minutes before we start our day,” he says. “That has become real important to Turbo. When we don’t do that because we are running late everyone’s day is off, even Turbo’s.”
An organization that goes “above and beyond”
Like any adopter, Tom had a lot of options when he was ready to choose a companion pet. He decided to adopt through Pets for Patriots because of our commitment to the most overlooked homeless dogs and cats – adult and special needs animals, and larger breed dogs. He appreciated our understanding of how companion pet adoption can be equally transformative for veterans.
“Pets for Patriots is a great organization,” he says, “[Pets for Patriots] goes above and beyond the call of duty to provide the support for veterans.”
While companion animals provide many benefits, they come with a lot of responsibility as well. Tom waited until he was able to fully commit before adopting a pet – a commitment that he noted is equally mental, emotional and financial.
“I think people need to understand that there really is a commitment involved,” he cautions, noting that the commitment is rewarded many times over.
“Turbo,” he says, “stole our hearts.”