Richard served all over the world during his 24-year military career. So when the retired combat medic was ready to adopt a dog he found one who needed healing as much as he did.
Saving lives as a way of life
Tending to the wounds of others has been a hallmark of Richard’s life. For 13 years he served as a pararescueman in the Air Force, often called PJs, Maroon Berets, or Rescue Rangers. These professionals provide recovery and medical care of military personnel engaged in combat and humanitarian missions.
As a military medical professional Richard was stationed in or deployed to an almost dizzying number of places around the globe. He saw the world in service to his country.
“I have served in or traveled to 47 states and 27 countries while serving in the military,” he says. “Some places were definitely better than others.”
However, it is the bonds that Richard forged through service that are the most memorable aspect of his military career.
“The things that left the biggest impact was the friends I made and the times we shared.”
After leaving the Air Force Richard would spend another 11 years as an Army combat medic before separating from service. But even though he retired from the military he was still on a mission to help others.
Richard now works in the civilian medical field and, true to his nature, chooses the most challenging environments to practice his craft.
“After my last deployment as an Army combat medic I returned home and began nursing school,” he says. “Eighteen months [later] I graduated and began life as a registered nurse. My first job was at a level one emergency room in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. After two years I moved back to Jackson, Tennessee to work in cardiac ICU.”
Retired combat medic to the rescue
In early December of 2018 a large, German Shepherd mix named Apache entered Frances H. Hensley Animal Shelter in Lexington, Tennessee.
Just a few months prior the shelter joined our free partner program and offers veterans we serve a reduced adoption fee of $25.
Around the same time Richard started to give serious thought to adopting a companion pet.
“I have always had dogs in my home, and needed that unquestioning love and support that a dog can provide,” he shares.
The retired combat medic had not heard about Pets for Patriots or our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
But Richard started his search online, like most would-be adopters. He would learn about our partnership with Frances H. Hensley Animal Shelter from their website.
Richard knew instantly that he wanted to adopt through our program.
“I actually had not heard of it until I went to the shelter’s website,” he recalls. “I saw it as such a great program and one that I would like to be a part of.”
Richard was approved into our program at the end of January 2019. It would be another few weeks until this lifelong healer met his match.
“…we need each other”
In late February 2019 – more than two months after Apache entered the shelter – he was heading home. Richard was quick to rename him Hans and the big dog wasted no time showering his savior with affection.
However, beyond sloppy pooch smooches and couch cuddles is real healing. Hans and Richard are kindred spirits. They share an unspoken and unbreakable bond – not unlike those that Richard forged during his 24-year military career.
“On my worst days or when I awake in the night he is always there to lay his head in my lap and help me relax,” Richard shares. “He has a troubled past as do I, so we understand each other and support each other.”
The retired combat medic and his adopted pup share an intensely close relationship. In fact, Richard’s favorite things about Hans are not anything the big dog does, but rather who he is and the support his mere presence provides.
“Loyalty, love, understanding,” he says, “and we need each other.”
Love and healing at both ends of the leash
We follow up with every single adoption for a minimum of one year to help nurture the bond between person and pet, answer questions, field resources, and to just listen.
Richard appreciates our outreach, like most veterans in our program. It is our simple way of letting them know that they are not alone, and that Pets for Patriots is an ongoing source of support and guidance.
“Thanks for checking in,” Richard says during a post-adoption check in. “He is doing great. Very smart and loving guy. Seeks approval on everything with lots of kisses. Thank y’all for helping me to give him a home for life.”
That home now includes a four-legged sibling for Hans. The two dogs quickly became fast friends.
“Hans is wonderful. We rescued a Rottweiler puppy last year to keep him company and now they are inseparable.”
The retired combat medic knows firsthand that it is critical to be healthy in both body and mind. He has witnessed this throughout his military and professional careers, as well as in his own life.
Hans gives Richard something that he needed – unconditional, uncritical love. And the big rescue dog receives the same in return.
Now Richard, a lifelong healer, has simple advice for veterans who may cope with invisible wounds as well.
“Don’t hesitate to find your new battle buddy.”