Geoff, a Cold War veteran, looked at a photo of his ten-year-old self sitting on the floor with a new puppy. He remembered that his puppy at the time ran away from him, and soon afterward the sun set on this young boy.
“I have to admit, a lot of my trauma came from childhood as well,” says Geoff. “You pick the trauma and it happened to me. I was like a target.”
Too many walls, not enough bridges
After turning 17, Geoff decided it was his time to move on. In the winter of 1976 he joined the United States Army and completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks in January 1977.
“In the Army, I had found a direction,” Geoff says. “I had found a place where I belonged and that I understood.”
Geoff’s first duty station was overseas in Germany, assigned to the “Iron Rangers” of 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. This was during the height of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall was still up.
“We did duty sometimes on the uh, checking the border,” Geoff recalls. “Watching them watch us. I’ve actually been to East Berlin, but I can’t say anything more. That was my tour.”
It was there Geoff had shown his potential to be a commendable soldier. First of all, he was driven, was rated an expert shot, and had hit all the marks of being an excellent soldier. He had people he could count on in his chain of command, or he thought he did.
It went from good to bad.
“My trauma is not related to combat type, it was military sexual trauma,” says Geoff. “After that, I just fell hard. I started to self-medicate, I did it with booze and drugs. I did not follow my chain of command, I started losing rank, I just wanted out.”
As a result, Geoff’s three year tour in the Army soon ended. He would have made it a career had that event not occurred and sent him on a long, downward spiral.
Walls cave in on Cold War veteran
Geoff had to begin building a new life again from the remains of what was left behind. His childhood was traumatizing and his stint in the Army did not provide the materials he needed for a strong foundation either.
“After the Army, I started bartending, but that was not good. I could drink all the time,” says Geoff. “I got married and went to Alaska, worked a bar with my wife and nine month-old daughter – then my PTSD was going nuts.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects the lives of millions of veterans from WWII to those currently in service. It is estimated that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, and up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans cope with this serious mental condition.
As for Geoff, his house had fallen just as fast as it went up. His wife left with their daughter and filed for divorce. Since then the Cold War veteran worked a wide variety of occupations, trying to find his way.
Geoff left bartending and moved onto being a sous chef, police officer, private investigator, print journalist, and credit analyst.
None of these occupations could fill the holes Geoff had in his life. Then his PTSD “blossomed.”
“I wound up one morning thinking I just can’t do this one more day,” he says. “I can’t be in this rat race with these people, doing what we do, sitting in my car, in a traffic jam in August, in Texas, in 115-degree heat to go to a job I hate, I quit.”
The Army veteran quit his job and was ready to quit life as well.
“I went to the VA office and I told them I’m done,” says Geoff. “Either y’all can help me or I’m done.”
Building a new foundation
Geoff had been to four different Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals since reaching out for help. He participated in two programs for PTSD in Texas, one in Florida and one in Washington, all to little avail.
“Nothing was working. I’m traveling to programs all over the country and they were doing the best they can with what limited resources they have,” Geoff says. “But nothing was working, and I was getting worse.”
The Cold War veteran had just one idea left. He thought about adopting a companion pet.
“I mean, I’ve been married and divorced four times. I do not do [human] relationships in any form or fashion,” Geoff laughs. “Even friends, I’m not on Facebook anymore – it just drove me crazy, I couldn’t do it.”
The Army veteran asked his primary care doctor and therapist about a companion pet. They both agreed that he was qualified to have one and wrote Geoff a letter of support. He learned about Pets for Patriots and started to look for a pet, with our help. One of his first orders of business was visiting our local shelter partner.
“I went to the [Michigan] Humane Society and there was Pansy,” says Geoff. “It was like love at first sight.”
Since 2011, the Michigan Humane Society offers veterans in our program deeply reduced adoption fees for program-eligible dogs and cats, and ongoing discounts at their three full-service veterinary clinics.
Pansy was a then year-and-a-half-old Pit Bull and Labrador mix. She had been homeless; her story is Geoff’s story.
“You know what baby, I’ve been there before,” Geoff says to Pansy. “Give me a chance and come with me.”
In Pansy’s eyes Geoff feels truly accepted.
“Oh, she loves me – ridiculously. I mean she just sits here and looks at me with mummy eyes,” Geoff says. “She’s just like, ‘I love you so much.’”
The Cold War veteran experiences that special joy that all pet guardians cherish: the unconditional love of a companion pet. A love that knows no boundaries.
“It doesn’t matter what I do, she just loves me. She doesn’t care what I did in my past, she doesn’t care. She wants to know that I’m safe and she can be right with me. None of my ex-wives did that,” he adds with a laugh.
In turn, Geoff takes Pansy outside often to exercise and interact with other people. In truth, she is the one taking him not just out of doors – but out of his shell.
“I’ve started a couple of major projects that give me something to do because before her I was just sitting there, I was drinking,” says Geoff. “Now I have projects going, I’m reading, I’m gonna customize my Jeep like crazy. I’m getting back into some form of life and I owe a lot of that to her.”
To thine own self be true
Geoff went from preferring seclusion to attending community cookouts. Pansy’s presence alone will spark a conversation with neighbors and strangers.
“’What a great dog,’ a neighbor will say. I’ve never talked to my neighbors where I’ve lived before, ever,” he says. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Certainly, Geoff still has his down days. Days when he cannot leave his apartment and others when he is not up for communicating with people. But Pansy is always there for him.
“She seems to know when I get upset,” says Geoff. “She will just come on over and want a pat and it takes me out of that.”
Because of Pansy, Geoff now feels more authentically himself than he has at any time in his life.
“It’s like I always had to be somebody else for my ex-wives or whoever. I was too scared to be me with all the trauma, so I had to be other people and I was really good at it. But it was killing me.”
“Don’t ever give up”
It has taken many anguished years for Geoff to accept himself and embrace life again. Through it all he is learning how to cope with PTSD and, more often than not, not let it get the better of him.
The Army veteran wants others who are suffering to know that they are not alone.
“I would say, ‘I get it, I know what you’re feeling, but there is a way out,'” he says. “Talk about it, it doesn’t have to be a problem, don’t hold onto it.”
Since rescuing Pansy Geoff has become something of an advocate for companion pet adoption. She fills a void in his life that left him vulnerable to his darkest demons. This Cold War veteran’s advice to others is simple, yet profound.
“Don’t ever give up.”
The house that Geoff and Pansy built
Geoff continues to persevere. The Cold War veteran admits that there were times when he “wasn’t a good dude.” He credits his rescue dog with giving him the opportunity to see his accomplishments and feel proud again.
“I put some stuff on my wall, my military history, a picture of my daughter and my dad, who was a Normandy invasion survivor,” says Geoff. “I look at this wall now, every morning, it’s got the ‘Ranger Creed’ on it. I used to live by that, I’m getting back to being focused and being that guy. I was straight up and a right on good soldier. I’ve gotten so far away from those ideals, she’s helping me get back to that.”
Geoff stared at the picture of himself when he was a ten year-old, holding onto his puppy that ran away. He mentioned that if it was not for the Pets for Patriots team he would not have come to such a comforting and warm realization.
“I came to realize, that kid was innocent,” Geoff says. “Well, that kid is with me now, today, with his puppy. Wow – I just realized that. Ain’t that something.”