Ron is a man with many war stories to tell. But this veteran of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars prefers to focus on the shelter dog whose adoption makes him feel appreciated many years after his military service.
The lottery no one wanted to win
In 1969 the United States Selective Service System held its first lottery draft since 1942. It would determine who would be drafted into service in support of the Vietnam war. Numbers ranged from 1 to 366; lower numbers were conscripted first.
Once Ron finished college he knew his number was up – literally.
“After using my student deferment to complete my college education and receiving number 29 in the military lottery I decided to enlist,” he says, “and spent 12 years in the Strategic Air Command serving in Vietnam. Then, after a break in service, completed my time with the Army National Guard in Annapolis, Maryland just in time to be in uniform for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.”
No thank you
The triple war veteran has too many memories – good and bad – to recount. But some stand out in his mind even decades after they happened.
“[I] participated in the hostage rescue when Carter left office,” Ron shares, referring to the 444 day Iran hostage crisis.
Thankfully, not all of the Army veteran’s memories are of life-threatening situations. Like many veterans we serve, Ron recalls fondly the many people and places he experienced over the course of his military career.
“Made some of the best friends ever. People of honesty and integrity,” he says. “Got to see places I never read about. Favorite station was Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Loved Thule, Greenland, and the Eskimo people.”
Ron has never forgotten the bonds forged during his time in service. Many veterans create close friendships during times of conflict or duress. This veteran of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars would be no different.
But there were dark memories, too. Despite Ron’s extraordinary service he was denied the homecoming he and his brethren deserved.
The Vietnam war was deeply unpopular in the United States and anti-war activism was a fact of daily life. That most veterans were drafted – or enlisted when they knew they would be – mattered little to those who opposed the war.
There were no parades or joyous homecomings.
While some returning soldiers were cursed at and spit upon, others were simply ignored as if their service and sacrifice meant nothing.
It was this environment that accounted for one of Ron’s worst memories of his service.
“Disrespect shown upon returning,” he says.
Still, Ron rose above the mistreatment he received. He served our nation faithfully for more than 20 years prior to retiring from the military.
The scars of war
The Army veteran set about restarting his life after serving in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. For many years he and his wife Christine called Maryland home.
But the couple eventually relocated to Leavenworth, Kansas, where Christine could complete her federal service in a small town environment.
“I am retired and volunteer in the local community,” Ron says. “My full time job is now making everyday living easier for my wife while she finishes up her federal career.”
Christine knew that her husband needed something – or perhaps someone – else in his life. The Army veteran still lives with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, even though his service is many years in the past.
It is estimated that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans will experience PTSD during their lifetimes – more than veterans of any modern conflict.
“…the best decision that I ever made”
Harry Truman is believed to have said that if you want a friend in Washington, DC – get a dog. It is advice that travels well.
Christine believed that her husband needed a companion pet to help him cope with the impacts of PTSD.
“[I] was pushed to adopt a dog by my wife who, as always, knew best as to what we both needed,” Ron shares. “When Pets for Patriots [put] away the last excuse I had, my wife forced me to make the best decision that I ever made. As it turns out I didn’t know what I needed until Doodlebug came along.”
It was 2016. Ron and Christine still lived in Maryland and, at the time, Doodlebug was a two year-old mixed-breed dog known as a Cockapoo. He was in the care of our partners Anne Arundel County Animal Control.
Earlier that year the municipal organization joined our free shelter partner program to offer veterans fee-waived adoptions. Dozens of their dogs and cats have been adopted through our partnership.
Still, Ron admits that he was not in immediate agreement with his wife’s idea of adopting a dog. But the many benefits we offer to make pet adoption more affordable took away the last reason he had to dismiss her suggestion.
“Sadly, I used money as an excuse not to adopt,” he confides. “Pets for Patriots took that excuse away from me. They made it simple and easy to complete the paperwork prior to looking. And once we found our forever friend all it took was a call for the shelter to verify approval and we went home with Doodlebug.”
After the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars – a thank you
Ron endured and sacrificed much during the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. He gave more than 20 years of service to our country only to be treated with scorn upon his return.
But through Pets for Patriots he found something that had been missing all these many years: gratitude.
“[They] made me feel appreciated,” he says.
Most Americans who did not live through the Vietnam era would be shocked to learn how the country treated its veterans. To this day some hold Vietnam veterans in contempt.
Even the United States government fell far short of its obligations to care for these veterans when they came home.
“When I decided to stay in uniform after the collapse of South Vietnam and Congress rewarded me and other Nam veterans by passing a law – only time in history – to take away our GI Bill, and America spit on us upon our return to the states,” Ron shares. “Doodlebug came along and changed all that.”
The curly-haired pup with the mocha-colored coat has done wonders for Ron’s mental health. The veteran is able to keep his emotions in check because Doodlebug has a naturally calming influence on him.
“Thank you for helping me keep my PTSD in check,” he says. “I haven’t wanted to hurt anyone since I got Doodle.”
For the love of dog
As humans we want to be liked, but need to be loved. That is perhaps the single most important ways that dogs make us happy. They love us without condition. And in doing so they inspire an equally unconditional love from us.
Ron is rarely short of ways to describe all of the things he adores about his shelter pup.
“His love and acceptance of me regardless. How he constantly gets his stuffed toys and brings us to play fetch with him. How he leans against us and cuddles in bed at night. How he fidgets his way under the covers when he is cold. How he avoids going to the bathroom in the house and scratches the door when he needs to go out.”
The Army veteran’s own transformation has not been lost on those closest to him. Christine is delighted that her husband heeded her advice to adopt a companion pet.
“Ron credits Doodle with helping him relax and bringing so much joy into his life,” she says. “A big ‘thank you’ from both of us to Pets for Patriots!”
And yet for all that companion dogs and cats give to their guardians they ask so little in return. A rub of the ears, food in the belly, a warm and safe place to sleep.
Ron was once a reluctant adopter, but now he is an advocate for the innately therapeutic value of shelter pets. And whenever he gets the chance he tells people how Doodlebug came into his life.
“They ask for nothing in return,” he says. “No other organization does more for veterans. I will remember them always in my holiday donation as well as in my estate planning. Please consider patronizing an organization that truly has veterans’ well-being in their hearts.”