A rescue dog was the ultimate healer for one Afghanistan veteran, helping her to reclaim her life from a crippling isolation.
Driven to serve, inspired to heal
Kara is an Air Force veteran and recent nurse graduate, and soon will start her new job as an emergency room nurse after completing her licensure. Her military experiences were the inspiration for a new civilian career to help others through the medical profession.
“During my deployment, I was able to volunteer in the emergency room at Bagram Air Base and I got to see the team work that went into caring for wounded service members,” the Air Force veteran says. “The med techs, nurses, and physicians were so welcoming and eager to share their experiences and insight. The experience made such a strong impression on me that I felt drawn back into the medical field.”
Originally from northern California and now living in Virginia, Kara is a woman of many talents. She is a cycle instructor in her spare time, and while in the Air Force served as a linguist and tactical support operator.
Kara was stationed in Nebraska for the entirety of her military career, and following her service she worked with USSTRATCOM as a government contractor in program security. Yet it is her desire to heal others and the powerful memories of Bagram that led her to become a nurse.
Afghanistan veteran struggles with life after wartime
Although Kara does not talk much about the trauma that befell her, she sought comfort where many people – veterans and civilians alike – find healing: through companion pet adoption. She had two small dogs early in her recovery, both of whom had a positive emotional impact on her.
“I noticed how much they impacted my moods and coping abilities,” she says, adding that they inspired her to search for a dog who would be an even better fit: one she could potentially train to be more sensitive to her psychological needs.
At the time the Afghanistan veteran had run the gamut of counseling and medications. Neither relieved the emotional pain she felt, nor addressed the crippling isolation that had become a staple of her life. While searching for the right companion she met Tank, a then two year-old German Shorthaired Pointer.
The pair bonded immediately, and Kara adopted Tank through Pets for Patriots and our affiliation with a breed-specific rescue that focused solely on these dogs, which are known for their hunting skills and athleticism.
From bed ridden to a life reclaimed
Since their adoption the Afghanistan veteran and the rescue dog have become an inseparable team, and Kara started her long journey to re-engage with the world around her. As of this writing the two are poised to celebrate their fourth anniversary together.
“Tank opened my life back up,” she says. “Before adopting him I wouldn’t get out of bed for days and barely left the house. Going grocery shopping was exhausting, and medication and counseling didn’t help at all.”
The rescue dog’s natural therapeutic qualities helped Kara begin to connect with other people more easily, something that had eluded her during her darkest moments.
“After getting Tank and really bonding with him I started to notice a change in my activity level, and ability travel and interact with people a bit more normally.”
While little is known about Tank’s life before he met Kara, it is clear that he is very attuned to the Afghanistan veteran’s needs – even when she may be unaware of them herself.
“He just gets me,” she says. “He can tell when I’m having a bad day before I can and doesn’t mind it. He’s an incredibly patient guy!”
“They force us to be better people”
Kara is a strong advocate for companion pet adoption, but cautions that it is not for everyone. Adopting a dog, or cat, should be a promise to that animal that you will care for her for the rest of her natural life.
“If you can offer the lifelong commitment and love that the animal will offer you, without any prejudice, then don’t hesitate,” Kara advises. “Companion animals or service animals can save a life, they force you to accomplish little tasks because they’re helpless without our care and love.”
The mutually beneficial relationship between person and pet gave hope to a once homeless dog and a return to normalcy for a veteran who had shuttered herself from the world around her. Yet Kara insists that Tank, like all companion pets, not only helps her re-establish a healthy disposition towards life – he does so much more.
“They force us to be better people.”