Will is among the 20 percent of veterans coping with depression. But a rescue hound with a friendly disposition is helping him keep the darkness at bay.
A devil dog life
Will served in the Marine Corps for five years. His initial military occupational specialty was ground radio repairman. Soon after he trained as a combat marksmanship coach and was assigned to the Marine base in Okinawa, Japan.
Some of Will closest confidants were forged during this assignment, which remains a highlight of his career as a devil dog.
“My first duty station was with the 7th Communications Battalion, where I met the majority of my inner circle of friends still with me today,” he shares.
However, like all veterans Will would relocate where the military needed him most. After a year in Okinawa he received permanent change of station orders, or PCS, that sent him back stateside.
“After my time in Japan I was PCS’d to 1st Maintenance Battalion in Camp Pendleton, which is where I bought my first motorcycle and enjoyed learning to ride with legal lane splitting,” he says. “It was like being a kid again, looking for any excuse to get on and ride.”
Six best and seven worst
Being a Marine still looms large for Will, even though he is separated from service. His tour of duty provided many opportunities – good and bad – that shaped the man he is today.
“I still tell people the military is directly involved with six of my 10 best and seven of my 10 worst memories so far in my life.”
One particular highlight was a rare moment of levity in an otherwise dangerous situation.
While stationed in Okinawa, Will and his fellow devil dogs were in typhoon lockdown when their barracks lost power. The motor transport platoon created a slip-and-slide game in the hallways using liquor to wet the floors.
Will recalls the spontaneous bout of devilish play as an attempt to enjoy what little fun could be had in lockdown.
However, the bad memories outweighed the good. Eventually Will would find himself in the midst of a depression that, in time, would be alleviated with the help of a rescue hound.
A natural dog person
Dogs have figured prominently in Will’s since he was a baby. He had at least two dogs in his home from the time he was born until his enlistment in the Marines.
But all that changed when Will’s on-base living quarters did not permit him to have a dog.
“Having dogs around my living space was so natural to me that I started to long for a dog in the barracks room,” he shares, “but I wasn’t allowed to have one.”
The young Marine even offered to dog sit for his married friends – for free.
“I just wanted to be around a dog again,” he says.
So for five long years the devil dog would be without a dog of his own.
After separating from service Will worked as a maintenance planner in the manufacturing industry. Soon after he decided to use the GI Bill to finish his mechanical engineering degree.
The GI Bill was instituted in 1944 to pay or defray the costs of higher education for military veterans and eligible family members.
Alone and lonely
Life became very lonely very quickly for Will.
During the young Marine’s enlistment he experienced the first dog-less years of his life. And after separating from service not only did he live alone, but he was without the daily, near moment-to-moment camaraderie of his fellow Marines.
Will confides that he was experiencing EAS depression, a term that is unfamiliar to most people outside of the military.
“It’s part of the younger crowd’s slang,” he explains. “Many post 9/11 vets experience depression to some level shortly after EAS – end of active service – due to the loneliness of being separated from their immediate friend group. In my case, I was happy to be out of the military, but I didn’t have anyone outside of my family that lived near me when I returned home.”
After so many years without a dog Will decided to seek out a rescue hound and change the downward trajectory of his emotional state.
Rescue hound to the rescue
It was July 2022 when Marshmello entered Shelter From the Storm, a Madison, Wisconsin shelter partner. The organization offers veterans in our program 10 percent off adoption fees and ‘day one’ pet essentials for veterans adopting through our partnership.
Marshmello appeared to be a mix of Coonhound, Treeing Walker, and Australian Cattle Hound.
The large, young dog would need an active household and just the right amount of tough-love discipline to thrive.
As it happens, Will visited Shelter From the Storm a few weeks after Marshmello’s intake. The staff told him about our companion pet adoption program after he made a passing remark about his military service.
The Marine Corps veteran applied to our program and was approved at the end of August. Just one week later he met Marshmello, since renamed Darrell, and took the rescue hound home for good.
Will recommends Pets for Patriots to other veterans who may be considering pet adoption. He believes many would appreciate the various benefits available to those who adopt through our nationwide shelter network.
“The process is also streamlined enough,” he shares, “that it doesn’t feel like yet another government bureaucrat pointing out another mistake you made in the 1,000th form you’ve filled out.”
The vast majority of our applicants are approved within less than two business days as part of our goal to minimize the time between application and adoption.
Happiness is a dog
Since adopting his rescue hound Will has experienced a marked improvement in his emotional well-being.
“Darrell makes very sure I don’t spend too much time on anything and suffer from burn out,” he shares. “He really has broken me out of the EAS depression and loneliness everyone seems to get.”
Outside the home Darrell is an affable young dog. He enjoys playing with other dogs in the neighborhood – regardless of size – and is particularly gentle with even the smallest pups.
The rescue hound is a bit shy around strangers, but warms up quickly when he realizes that they mean no harm.
At home, however, Darrell is on point in his own, subtle way.
“He is very quiet, and will not bark, huff, whine, or grunt,” Will says.
“But he will sometimes let out a quiet growl when he sees another dog approaching my apartment windows. But it is only loud enough to be a warning for me, rather than a threat to the outsider.”
“…I am whole again”
It typically takes at least a year, sometimes longer, for adopted dogs to fully acclimate to their new homes. During this time they are learning how to communicate with their people, and their guardians are learning the same.
For example, Darrell moves his water bowl closer to the refrigerator to signal that he needs water. He drags Will’s work boots to the same spot because he knows that Will dons his boots before the pair go out for a walk.
Will knew that his depression and loneliness were not going to go away on their own. So he returned to something familiar and cherished – the love of a rescue hound – to help keep his demons at bay.
Adopting Darrell has been nothing short of lifesaving for the Marine Corps veteran.
“It’s like I am whole again,” he says. “Having a dog companion to get excited when I come home makes me feel more like I am home, rather than just living somewhere.”