Companion pet adoption can offer much-needed healing, at both ends of the leash, for veterans coping with the invisible wounds of combat as well as for the pets they save.
This is the story of a dog twice surrendered to a Colorado shelter who found his forever family, and a purpose: helping an Army combat veteran adjust to the challenges of coming home from war.
High anxiety after return from combat
After being together with his high school sweetheart for more than a decade, Vaughan married and, around the same time, joined the Army. In 2011, just a year into their marriage, he was deployed to Afghanistan. He served there for 11 months before returning to his home base in Colorado Springs.
Like many combat veterans, Vaughan found himself on edge even after he returned home from Afghanistan.
“When I first got back, I had a little bit of trouble readjusting to home life,” he says. “Nothing too dramatic, but I was feeling anxious and restless often. I would become overly irritated by little problems.”
The combat veteran and his wife, Annie, decided to adopt a shelter dog, thinking it might help with the stress and the anxiety Vaughan was feeling. Annie began searching for a dog to adopt through their local shelters.
“We both wanted a dog. She wasn’t even allowed to have a pet when she was growing up,” Vaughan says. “We wanted a pet that we could play with and take out for walks.”
During her online search, Annie discovered Pets for Patriots, a charity that helps military members honorably adopt adult and at-risk shelter pets. The couple was impressed by the number of shelters that participate in the program as well as the other benefits of adopting a pet through the nationwide program – including discounted veterinary care and support for pet food, supplies and other essentials.
Twice surrendered, but third time’s a charm
It was an early fall day in 2012 when Vaughn and his wife visited the Dumb Friends League, a Pets for Patriots adoption partner in Denver, and fell in love with Max. As an adult dog – a two year-old Lhasa Apso/Poodle mix – he fit one of the charity’s requirements of an at-risk pet. But it was Max’s upbeat personality and determination to find a home that sealed the deal.
After being found as a stray, the little shelter dog was adopted and subsequently surrendered by two separate families for showing aggression toward strangers. Vaughan decided that it didn’t matter; he was impressed by Max’s resiliency.
“He seemed so friendly and caring when we met him that we decided to give him a chance.”
That chance paid off, for both the combat veteran and the irrepressible shelter dog.
“Max has been great for my wife and I,” Vaughn says. “When we got him, he seemed so happy to be out of the shelter that it was impossible for me to be irritated. He helped me to readjust quickly and has been a great companion in the time that he has been a part of our family.”
The couple took Max to a trainer and learned that the aggression he was displaying was fear-based. He had been abandoned before, and was afraid that other people or animals approaching Vaughan and Annie were going to take them away from him.
“Once we understood what his fear was,” says Vaughan, “we were able to work him through it. Now our biggest problem is that he gets too excited when there are new people around. That, and stopping him from getting into the trash.”
A recommendation to fellow military members
Vaughan is currently stationed at Fort Carson as a 12b Combat Engineer for the Army while taking online college courses towards a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He and his wife are now Pets for Patriots fans, having had such a positive experience adopting Max through the program.
“I would tell all veterans or active duty military members to work with Pets For Patriots for their adoptions,” says Vaughan. “They helped us with the process, supported our adoption with some financial assistance to help get Max comfortable, and have continued to check in with us to see if we needed anything. They have been fantastic to us and helped us build our little family.”
These days, both Max and Vaughan are less anxious. Max knows that he has a forever family that will not abandon him, and Vaughan is more relaxed by the mere presence of his loving little friend.
In what ways do you and your pet help one another?
This is a great article and a great website! There is such a great opportunity as both oends of the leash, I love that! Out pets deserve nothing better than to be with a hero and our heroes deserve nothing more than to be with their best friend.
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