Franky suffered horrific injuries when used as a bait dog, including the loss of his ear flaps. Chris is a retired Green Beret and below-the-knee amputee who fell in love with the discarded Pit Bull.
Together person and pet prove that there is life beyond their battle wounds.
“…the only job I ever wanted to do”
Chris is a resident of Clarksville, Tennessee, and a retired Army Green Beret. He grew up in Canton, Ohio and always knew he wanted to serve in the military.
“Joining the Army was the only job I ever wanted to do, so it was pretty easy when I graduated high school,” he recalls. “I knew I wasn’t mature enough to make it through college, and I’d just be wasting somebody’s money.”
So in 1986 Chris enlisted in the Army and began his career with the Military Police (MP). For several years he was handler for a military working dog (MWD) trained to detect drugs and explosives.
However, the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990 would change the entire trajectory of Chris’ Army career.
“During the Gulf War when so many people were going overseas to fight, I got stuck at Fort Campbell. I didn’t like that too much,” he laments. “Some of us wanted to go and we couldn’t. Then there were guys who didn’t want to go, but they made them go.”
Chris wanted to be a part of the action. He knew his chances of being sent down-range were slim as long as he was in a support occupation, like an MP.
“I was thinking about my future and I decided to try Special Forces out,” he says. “I knew that if I went into combat arms, especially in Special Forces, that I would get the opportunity to go off to the next big thing.”
The quiet professional
Chris completed Special Forces Selection and Assessment and the Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Upon graduation he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a unit whose lineage dates to World War II.
For the next 20 years Chris was an integral part of the United States Army Special Forces, elite soldiers best known to the public as Green Berets. Yet those in the force call themselves the ‘quiet professionals’ because their work requires stealth and secrecy.
Being a Green Beret meant being away from family for long stretches of time.
“I spent probably half of my post-9/11 career overseas in the Middle East. I was mostly in Iraq and spent a little bit of time in Afghanistan,” he says.
Not surprisingly, Chris is an avid athlete. He was planning to complete a half-Ironman competition after he returned from deployment in Iraq, but in December 2005 his focus shifted from a fight to the finish line toward a fight for his life.
“…and then I got shot”
Chris set out early one December morning for physical training (PT) with his Iraqi counterparts and two Puerto Rico National Guard soldiers.
“My special forces team, my ODA, was located in a little camp north of Baghdad. There was a prison on the camp. Not for prisoners of war, but for Iraqi criminal prisoners,” he recalls. “We ended up getting in a firefight that morning with 12 to 15 escaped prisoners.”
The escapees raided the prison’s armory after ambushing the guards and stealing their weapons. Several of them were armed with automatic weapons when they fled. Chris and his PT partners responded with force and the uprising was quickly squashed.
Within two hours the escaped prisoners had all been killed or captured.
In the ensuing melee one of the Guardsmen was shot. It was a “through and through just under the skin,” and he returned to duty the following day. Chris’ wounds were far more severe.
By this time the elite soldier had already been in the Army for more than 19 years, and had recently signed an extension to stay in service for 25.
“I was closing in on the end and then I got shot.”
Deciding to become an amputee
Chris was shot once in each leg and the bullet that went through his right leg severed his sciatic nerve. Once stabilized, he was transported back to the United States for treatment.
“It’s kind of a funny story because of all the missions I’ve been on throughout my career, and I never got a scratch,” he says. “One day I’m just out doing some physical training and we run into a prison break, and I get shot twice.”
The soldier’s right leg was essentially paralyzed. He and his wife, Dana, spent months consulting with doctors and amputees. In July 2006, Chris opted for a below-the-knee amputation.
“It’s not an easy decision to make, but for me it seemed easier because the alternative was to walk around with a cane and a brace on my leg for the rest of my life,” he shares. “I was really looking at quality of life. I’m a pretty active person, and having it amputated gave me a better chance at being active and doing physical things.”
The recovery and rehabilitation that followed required a great deal of mental and physical fortitude. But the Special Forces soldier is the picture of resilience. Chris was up to the task and determined to regain as much functionality as possible.
“It’s kind of difficult. Your leg hurts all the time. You’re going through a lot of changes in your body because your body is atrophying, so things are changing pretty fast.”
Chris was walking on his prosthetic leg within two months of surgery. The newly minted amputee ran a 5K just three months later, though he is quick to clarify what he means by ‘running.’
“That’s a stretch of the word ‘run,’ though,” he laughs. “When you define that, it just means that I was doing a shuffle that was just a little faster than a slow walk.”
Since becoming an amputee Chris has completed five Ironman competitions – known as the most grueling triathlon in the world.
A leg for every sport
Chris credits his prosthetist with helping him achieve his goal of getting back to physical activity. Not only was he present during the surgery, but he has made Chris a variety of prostheses for nearly every occasion. So many, in fact, that Chris’ kids make fun of his large collection.
“I’m big into cycling, so I have a cycling leg for my road bicycle and one for my mountain bicycle. I also dive, so I have a scuba diving leg. And I have a running leg because I do some running as well.”
The Army veteran even has a golfing leg that was made for a very special outing with President George W. Bush.
“I will probably never golf again, but it’s in a box in the closet with some of the others,” he says. “It just goes to show how many man-made things you need to replace a part of your body.”
However, Chris was not content to just get back to the sporting activities he loves. He returned to active duty and continued to serve until retiring as a Sergeant Major in 2013.
The Army veteran worked on post at Fort Campbell after separating from service. At the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) he helped wounded soldiers find jobs and education opportunities as they transitioned out of the Army.
But after five years at the WTU Chris received a job offer he could not refuse. The opportunity would accelerate his ability to fully retire, but there was a catch: he had to move to Afghanistan for two years.
Chris took the job and once again bid his family goodbye.
Left for dead
Potty training, socializing, learning commands, getting belly rubs. The first year of a puppy’s life should be full of exciting milestones and formative experiences.
Franky, a young Pit Bull Terrier, was robbed of the opportunity to be a typical puppy. He was only about one year old when he was left for dead on a remote country road in Tennessee.
In April 2019, Montgomery County Animal Care and Control received a call about a dog who had been hit by a car. The responding officer knew immediately that the young pup’s wounds were not caused by a vehicle.
The nearly lifeless dog was bound in a sheet. He had multiple gaping head wounds that were infested with maggots. His ear flaps were torn off, his legs were covered in bite wounds, and he had lost a significant amount of blood. There was no light in his eyes and he seemed resigned to his fate.
The Montgomery County Animal Care and Control investigates animal cruelty and neglect complaints, in addition to facilitating pet adoption. Experience led them to conclude that the dog had been used as a bait dog in a dog fighting operation. The nearly dead Pit Bull was rushed to Sango Veterinary Hospital for emergency care.
While the dog was in the legal custody of the shelter he remained at the veterinary hospital due to the severity of his injuries. Both organizations partnered with us in 2018 to promote pet adoption and affordable veterinary care in their community.
And to help give this particular young pup a new life, his caretakers would give him a name: Franky.
“You have to get me this dog”
Franky’s story was a hometown viral sensation. Sango Veterinary Hospital shared every twist and turn of the young dog’s recovery.
So while Chris worked as a civilian contractor in the Middle East, his family followed Franky’s story on social media. And after several surgeries the pup’s prognosis for recovery was good.
Chris and Dana’s daughter, Haley, was particularly smitten with the rescued dog. She knew that her father would love him, too.
“Haley saw the story and emailed it to me,” Chris recalls. “I read the story and watched the video. I told her, ‘You have to get me this dog.’”
Dana already had plenty on her plate. Her husband would be overseas for several more months and she was not prepared for the added responsibility of a dog with special medical needs.
Still, every night Chris would ask for updates about Franky. It helped ease the stress of being separated from his family to hear about the dog’s miraculous progress.
Haley took it upon herself to email the shelter without telling her parents. She detailed her father’s road to recovery as an amputee and how much her family wanted to adopt Franky.
“Apparently when they read the email they knew they’d found the right adoptive family,” Chris recalls. “They said it was one of the first letters they got and they didn’t think anyone could top it.”
The staff contacted Haley to set up a meet and greet; she had to confess. Eventually Dana relented and agreed to foster Franky for a few days to see how things went.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or perhaps it was fate.
Franky never went back to the shelter, but Chris still did not know.
The best kept, snoring secret
In fact, the family kept the secret from Chris for almost a month. Their goal was to surprise him when he came home for his next visit.
“This was all done behind my back. My wife kept telling me she didn’t want to take care of a dog while I was in Afghanistan,” he says.
Dana even took the covert plan a step further.
“She fibbed to me and told me another family adopted him,” he shares. “So I stopped asking about him.”
Many times, Dana thought Franky himself would spoil the surprise.
“I used to call home every day to talk to the family. Dana told me afterward that sometimes when I called, she would be laying in bed with Franky right beside her, snoring like a grown man,” he laughs. “She was sure I’d be able to hear his snoring through the phone and he would ruin the secret.”
Even Pets for Patriots was part of the plan.
Montgomery County Animal Care and Control alerted us to the pending adoption. And since Dana had power of attorney over Chris’ affairs we were able to work with her directly to complete Chris’ application and Franky’s provisional adoption.
Once Chris got home he would just need to sign the paperwork to finalize the adoption.
Who’s your daddy?
Every five or six months Chris was able to come home from Afghanistan, even if just for a few weeks. So the family decided to host the big reveal at the airport when Chris was scheduled to visit in June 2019.
Local news crews covered the story, and friends, family and Franky supporters were there, too. The rescued Pit Bull wore a Pets for Patriots t-shirt sent to him just for the occasion.
Chris recalls seeing the television cameras when he deplaned; perhaps someone famous had been on his flight. Then everyone started pointing at him.
“As soon as I knew it was for me, I knew what was going on because nobody cares about a contractor coming home from overseas. Nobody,” he jokes.
The cat – or dog – was out of the bag.
“I knew they’d been lying to me,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘They got Franky. This is a story about Franky.’ Sure enough, there was Franky with a ‘Welcome Home, Dad’ sign around his neck.”
The former MWD handler has always loved dogs, but admits that he never considered adopting a Pit Bull before Franky.
Tragically, dog fighting persists around the country even though it is a felony in all 50 states.
The abhorrent practice gives bully breed dogs a bad reputation, which in turn creates a perverse incentive for cowards and criminals to abuse them. They do not think anyone will care.
Chris would eventually learn the full story about how Franky joined his family, but he knew that it could have never happened without Dana.
“My wife? Yeah, she’s pretty awesome.”
By no measure is Franky an ordinary-looking dog, especially with missing ear flaps. As an amputee, Chris knows something about battle wounds – both the seen and the unseen. Perhaps that is why the combat veteran felt such an instant affinity to Franky when he first learned his fate.
“He’s just this big, scarred-up Pit Bull. He has no ears and he has scars all over his legs,” he says. “To us, he’s as cute as a button, but I guess to some people he looks like Frankenstein.”
In his former life Franky likely lived outdoors, perhaps on the end of a heavy chain. Living inside a house was an adjustment for him. At first he was anxious and had nightmares on occasion. And he did not understand when Dana invited him up on the bed to cuddle.
How life has changed for this four-legged wounded warrior.
“Now you’ll have a hard time getting him out of the bed,” Chris says. “Now he’s totally spoiled. I don’t think he remembers any of that prior life.”
But some of the invisible scars of that cruel existence haunt Franky to this day. He is not friendly with other dogs, but loves all people – including small children.
Chris enjoys using his military dog handler skills to do basic training with Frankly, mostly commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ But the former bait dog’s ability to learn new tricks is impressive.
“I watched a lot of videos where people put food down or put it on the dog’s forehead and he won’t touch it until you tell him to,” he says. “It only took me three tries to teach him that.”
Hero fund for a hero dog
Chris appreciates how we helped his family adopt Franky for him while he was in Afghanistan. He is equally grateful to Franky’s secret benefactor – a donor unknown to him – who has been sponsoring many of Franky’s unique medical needs through our hero fund.
“It’s just really cool that someone wants to do that for us,” he says.
Chris is now working closer to home training soldiers in combat marksmanship. It gives him precious time with his family, which now includes the dog he describes as “like having a toddler.”
“There are some things that tell you he didn’t have a typical puppy life,” he observes. “You can tell he was never held as a puppy. He’s affectionate, but he’s not that kind of ‘you have to touch me all the time’ kind of dog.”
Your new best friend is waiting
The combat veteran has simple advice for anyone considering a companion pet: go to a shelter and keep an open mind.
“Go to a shelter and find your dog or cat because he or she is there somewhere,” he says. “Until I saw Franky’s story I wouldn’t have even thought about getting a Pit Bull. But I saw his story and I met him, and now I love Pit Bulls. I think they’re awesome.”
These days Franky is a local celebrity. The whole community learned of his plight long before Chris adopted him.
Countless people came out to support his recovery, many contributing to his initial life-saving surgeries and medical care.
And for Chris, that is just fine.
The elite soldier who sacrificed life and limb for our country is more than happy to give the spotlight to Franky. He believes that the bait dog’s rescue and rehabilitation into a loving family dog is the real story. And he knows that there are countless more homeless animals like Franky who are waiting for their heroes.
“To anyone considering getting a pet, look into adoption before you spend a ridiculous amount of money on a pure bred dog. Shelters are full of dogs and cats that are going to be put to sleep if they don’t get adopted. And they’re all awesome animals.”