Cale needed a friend more than he would ever know. The Iraq war veteran’s unlikely savior turns out to be a homeless senior dog who spent more than a year without a family of his own.
Men and women enlist in the military for a variety of reasons. For Cale, the promise of stability was a powerful motivator to join the Army.
“I needed a job and training,” he shares, “and to provide for my family.”
Nearly 20 years ago Cale enlisted and started as a fuel truck driver, during which time he served three combat tours in Iraq. He is now a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO), serving in a project management role installing vital internet and telecommunications services around the world.
The Army veteran has more memories of his service than he can recount. But one sticks in his mind to this day.
Mud on his face
Cale was serving as the 160th signal brigade engineering NCOIC, or NCO in charge, responsible for all of the brigade’s projects across Southwest Asia. One particular project took him to Jordan where an installation did not go as planned.
Cale normally would have supervised the effort, but had to jump in with a few of his soldiers to get the job done.
While the project was completed successfully Cale’s uniform got covered in mud. It was not a good impression to make on the two unexpected visitors who came to see the facility.
“Along comes the brigade commander and the general of 333rd, conducting a surprise inspection,” he recalls. “So here I am giving a site brief to a two-star and [a] full bird, covered in mud, about the completion of the new facility at a strategic site.”
Some time thereafter, Cale was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal – in part due to the success of that project. The colonel involved in the surprise visit was there, recounting his horror at a mud-laden NCO briefing him and the general.
However, in subsequent meetings he and the colonel had more opportunity to get acquainted. During those encounters the senior officer learned about all of Cale’s efforts to accomplish his missions, including earning five information technology (IT) certifications in very short order.
From that moment on the colonel had newfound respect for his NCO.
“I’ve wanted a dog for years”
Cale continues to serve in the Army and expects to retire in a couple of years. In his free time he enjoys motorcycling, all things IT, and woodworking.
The Iraq war veteran leads a busy, fulfilling life, but something had been missing for a very long time.
“I’ve wanted a dog for years.”
Still, Cale thought it was unfair to adopt a companion pet because he traveled often, including on overseas assignments. During his nearly two-decade long military career he put any efforts to adopt on hold.
Life had other plans, however. Cale’s struggles in a recent unit made him realize that it was time to start thinking about separating from service. Changes to his family life impacted his decisions as well.
“My eldest son has left the nest and started a family of his own. My other son is about to leave for basic training this July,” he shares. “My daughter struggles with her confidence having Aspergers.”
And then the pandemic hit.
Cale was assigned to full-time telework. Gyms closed. The cold Maryland winter kept him mostly indoors.
Cale knew that he needed to make positive changes for his physical health – his back hurt from sitting all day – and his emotional well-being.
“I decided that even though my career is not 100 percent done, I am close enough that it’s finally time to get a lovable slobber machine. Someone who needs me to get up and move.”
The Army veteran had no idea that a homeless senior dog would be the key to a newfound happiness.
Cal learned about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. He applied in early November 2020 and was accepted promptly. His search for a dog, however, was not as swift.
“I had talked to three different places about getting a dog. Months went by and nothing. I had sent emails asking about my status and it seemed that I was just not even worth[while], I was denied.”
Our team reached out to Cale to see how his search was going; he was dispirited and on the brink of giving up. So we asked for permission to share his contact details and pet preferences with our local shelter partners.
Most shelters nationwide have implemented new protocols due to COVID. They are faced with staff and volunteer shortages, and have extremely limited in-person visitation. While these practices are intended to keep people safe, they do tend to slow down the pace of routine communications and adoptions.
Because of the relationships we form with our shelter partners we are often able to get through to them more quickly.
Second chance for a homeless senior dog
Senior Dog Sanctuary of Maryland was the first to reply. In 2018 they joined our free shelter partner program and waive adoption fees for our veterans. To date we have had more than 40 adoptions together.
Cale, however, was unsure if he was ready for an older dog.
“They hit me right back and we started talking about Monk, a 10 year-old black Lab,” he recalls. “At first I was hesitant. This old man was not going to be able to go running with me and he was going to be full of vet[erinary] bills for old age.”
Still, the Army veteran felt that he had little to lose by visiting Monk at the sanctuary. At first the big dog wanted nothing to do with him, but started to come around the longer Cale stayed.
“As he opened up to me a bit, he looked me right in the eyes. It was like he was looking at my soul to see if I was worthy of having his attention. After a bit he was allowing me to pet him,” Cale says. “I also fell in love with him right there.”
Sometimes you get what you need
Monk had a sad story, like many of the dogs and cats adopted through our program. His previous guardians died about 15 months before he met Cale. Due to various mixups the homeless senior dog spent a year in a kennel before being transferred to the sanctuary, where he lived for three months until he met his hero.
Cale soon realized that while he might not have adopted the kind of pet he thought he wanted, he got the friend he needed. And the older dog needs him, too.
“Well, I might not be running, but I am getting up and moving,” he shares. “I make sure that Monk is a part of everything that I do as much as possible. I now get up in the morning instead of sleeping in til the last minute for work.”
The Army veteran loves that Monk wants to be near him all the time. And he appreciates how his new buddy reminds him that there is life beyond sitting at a home office in front of a computer.
The adventures of Monk
Monk has adjusted to his new family even as he remains skittish around other people and dogs. He has gained confidence to the point where he has no issues making his feelings plain.
“He makes his moods fairly well known through his looks or simply refusing to move,” Cale says. “He has yet to bark, growl, whine, whimper. He has started to refuse to stay in the kennel at night and now has a bed upstairs.”
Monk is part of everything that Cale and his family do together. They are working on his car sickness by taking shorter rides a few times each week. And Cale noticed that Monk is frightened by the loud noise of his woodworking, so he takes breaks when the big dog is around.
The Army veteran and his newfound buddy are learning more about one another every day. And while older dogs definitely can learn new tricks, Cal is learning that sometimes it is best to just let Monk be Monk.
“This old man!” he exclaims. “Steals my couch spot when I get to get a snack, consistently stops walking due to a runner going another direction needs to be watched for at least a quarter of a mile, and flat refuses to do anything he does not want to. Sometimes that is a good thing!”
Monk has become an unlikely favorite at the dog park because he is disinterested in the biscuits and toys the other dogs want. Instead, the older dog has a favorite ball that he loves to chase and prefers rawhide as his favorite treat.
“He refuses to chew on anything else,” Cal says, adding that Monk starts drooling whenever he goes to open the package.
Oldies are goodies
Monk has made Cale’s house feel more like a home again. And while Cale had not initially considered an older dog, he realizes now that the right dog chose him as his person. He appreciates our role in making his adoption happen.
“I want to tell you that your program is awesome,” he says.
Our mission is to help veterans find loving companions and shelter animals loving homes. Along the way, sometimes we can change perceptions about what makes a great pet.
Dogs and cats who are overlooked by most adopters often make the very best, best friends.
Cale is a convert. At first he was reluctant to consider a homeless senior dog, but he opened his mind – and his heart – to the possibility.
“You might want to take another look at that older dog,” he says. “While Monk is not going to be with me for long, he needs a good home. He does not bark, growl, scratch at anything. He is already house broken. He does not run off the leash. He doesn’t need to be trained and doesn’t need all the work of a young puppy. But most of all I know he loves me as much as I love him.”