Everyone needs someone to lean on.
One young Marine lost his support system after his unit moved on without him, but a rescue dog who needed a friend would be his saving grace.
Zeb grew up in a small rural town near Lake Michigan with a population just shy of a thousand residents. By the time he graduated high school he knew that neither college nor working in a local shop inspired him.
So Zeb took the path of many young people who are eager to explore the world around them. He decided to join the United States military.
“I thought, well, I might as well do something with my life and use this as a stepping stone,” he recalls, “and see where this takes me.”
So in 2016 Zeb enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for bootcamp in April of the following year. After leaving his family and the only place he had ever known, he would soon find a new support system among his fellow Marines.
Band of brothers
Zeb was based out of Norfolk, Virginia and trained as a V-22 Osprey mechanic.
These professionals have the awesome responsibility to ensure that aircraft are safe and configured properly for their missions.
“I’m a flight line mechanic, so I deal with the engines, the drive systems, fuel systems, oil systems,” he explains. “Pretty much everything except for the electrical and the hydraulic side of it.”
The hours were long, the work arduous and mission critical.
During his tour of duty Zeb formed a tight bond with his unit. They became his support system away from home, his own band of brothers.
From injury to isolation
Eventually, Zeb was deployed to Spain on rotation for the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Africa. It is a rapid response force of several hundred Marines and sailors that responds to crises worldwide in addition to providing humanitarian relief.
While the deployment expanded Zeb’s horizons, it lasted longer than anyone expected due to the global pandemic.
“I would say that deployment was a very emotional rollercoaster out there. I mean, I got stuck out there because of Covid,” he explains.
“Being three- to four-thousand miles away from family. I didn’t get to see my family for about one year and three quarters.”
However, this deployment was memorable for other reasons, as well. Zeb hurt his back and – unaware of the seriousness of his injury – tried to persevere without medical care.
“I injured my back, did the ‘Marine thing’ and tried to take Ibuprofen,” he says. “I got to the point where I couldn’t get out of my bed by myself. Walking, I was getting shooting pains down my leg. Found out I broke my L5 vertebrae and had a herniated disk.”
Zeb would require major back surgery, rendering him incapable of performing the intensely physical work he once did. He remained in Virginia to recover while his unit moved to North Carolina.
Most of the young Marine’s friends were gone; Zeb’s emotional health suffered.
“My support system left, and I was dealing with some mental health issues,” he shares, “you know, depression and what not.”
It was during this time of physical and mental convalescence that Zeb started to think about a pet companion.
A match meant to be
One day, Zeb was talking to one of the few colleagues who had remained in Norfolk. He knew that this service member adopted a dog through Pets for Patriots – and shared that he was unsure about whether or not to adopt.
Zeb’s friend told him about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans and encouraged him to visit the same shelter from which he adopted, Chesapeake Humane Society.
Since 2016, the shelter offers veterans we serve $25 off adoption fees when they rescue program eligible dogs and cats.
It was the end of August 2022 when Zeb decided to take his friend’s advice and visit Chesapeake Humane Society.
“When I first got there I took a walk through the kennels to look at all the dogs and everything. Of course at kennels dogs are barking and going crazy, but she was just standing there and looking at me,” he recalls.
This special girl was Brandywine, a large mixed breed dog estimated to be about five years old at the time.
The young Marine could not help but wonder if this hapless hound could possibly be the new support system he had come to find.
Brandywine is believed to have lived outdoors almost exclusively and in deplorable conditions. She was rescued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which in turn transferred her to the Chesapeake Humane Society for adoption. Her teeth were damaged from chewing on a chain-link fence in a failed effort to escape her outdoor pen.
Zeb was moved by the big dog’s plight.
“Even in the rough shape she was in – she was 54 pounds, had heartworms, barely had hair at the root of her tail because of the fleas – she was still standing there wagging her tail,” he recalls.
“She didn’t seem discouraged, if that makes sense.”
Brandywine exuded a spirit of triumph over adversity. Her disposition was just what Zeb needed to cope with his own physical and emotional challenges.
Shelter staff brought the abused, neglected dog into a room dedicated for meets and greets.
“She immediately came and jumped in my lap and nuzzled into me,” the Marine veteran says, “and I was like, ‘yeah, she going home with me today.'”
Adoption is a team sport
The Marine Corps veteran appreciates that everyone involved made the application and adoption processes so quick and seamless.
Shelter staff introduced Zeb and Brandywine for their meet and greet during Zeb’s his first visit. Paperwork was done the same day. And when Zeb reached out to us while he was still at the shelter we approved his application so that he could bring Brandywine home without delay.
“The program itself, with how quick I found out about it and then was able to get her, and then how kind of rushed everything was, you guys were able to pull through and help me get her that same day and expedite everything.”
Were it not for Zeb’s friend who adopted a pet through our program and had such a good experience, the Marine confides that he may have never visited the shelter and met Brandywine.
Paying it forward
Zeb, however, had not planned on bringing a new companion on the very same day he visited the shelter.
“I was getting ready to leave and was like, ‘Shoot, I don’t know how she rides – if she’s good with vehicle heights or what.’ One of the ladies was like, ‘Here!’ and gave [me] a seatbelt leash,” he says.
Zeb was grateful for the helpful tool. After his experience, he ordered several seatbelt leashes online to donate to the shelter. He wanted other adopters who might find themselves similarly unprepared to be more able to welcome home their newly adopted pets.
The Marine Corps veteran is paying it forward in other ways, as well. By simply sharing his adoption story he is bearing witness to the innate therapeutic potential of shelter dogs and cats.
It was the last day of August 2022 when Zeb and Brandywine were adopted. Not long afterwards, she had a negative reaction to the heartworm treatment and fell seriously ill.
Zeb rushed his new companion to a nearby emergency veterinarian, where he had to leave her overnight.
“When that happened, that was the first night I ever spent away from her and, oh man, that was rough,” he recalls.
“I definitely got choked up walking out of there because I didn’t know if she was going to make it or not.”
However, Brandywine is nothing if not a fighter. The dog who endured such gross neglect in her prior life was not ready to give in.
“I almost lost her,” Zeb recalls, “but she was able to pull through.”
For the next few months Zeb nursed Brandywine back to health. The tender acts of caregiving uplifted his own spirits as well.
“And then watching her get better made me feel better because at that point it was like ‘Hey, I’m getting her healthier’, and that made me feel like I was doing something right, and that made me feel better to deal with my mental health issues I was struggling with at that point of time.”
An essential companion
Zeb experienced a tremendous void after nearly everyone in his unit relocated and he was left behind. In addition, he was grappling with the physical challenges associated with recovery from back surgery. While his human support system was all but gone, his canine companion filled the breach.
“My support system I really had here left and I was still here,” he shares. “She is definitely the companion I needed. Just something to look forward to coming home to every day.”
Still, the adoption was not without its stumbles.
Brandywine had lived most if not all of her life outdoors. Now she had to adapt to indoor living and the expectations that come with being an indoor dog. She had to adapt to Zeb’s schedule, as well.
But Zeb worked hard to build trust and mutual understanding. The veteran’s time, compassion, and patience were rewarded.
Now it is Brandywine’s irrepressible spirit that is anchoring Zeb when he needs it most. She reminds him to live in the moment, take joy in simple things, and always be ready for a little adventure, too.
“She’s totally cool with just hanging out on the couch, hanging out with her stuffies. She chews on them, but doesn’t rip them up. It’s adorable,” he says with pride.
The big dog is equally happy lounging around the house or going for a walk. But her evening routine is non-negotiable, according to Zeb.
“Every night before she goes to sleep she has to get her snuggles,” he says.
“She’s definitely made the full 180, and it’s great.”
Zeb admits that his “goofy, happy dog” knows that she is “spoiled rotten.” And he is just fine with that.
“…great way to boost your morale”
In some ways the Marine Corps veteran was an accidental adopter. He had been on the fence about a companion pet until a chance meeting with a friend who rescued a dog through Pets for Patriots as well. And that was all the impetus Zeb would need to find his own four-legged companion.
Now Zeb wants to pay forward the advice his friend had given him. Not only does adopting a companion pet save that animal’s life, but it has tremendous benefits for the person at the other end of the leash.
“It’s a great way to boost your morale and your mental health,” he says. “It can be frustrating and challenging, but if you’re struggling with something it could very well help you.”