For most of his life Paul has been coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition estimated to afflict more than 30 percent of all Vietnam veterans. No stranger to the comforting presence that companion pets can bring to their people, Paul’s decision to adopt a rescued dog was not a surprising one.
Yet in doing so the Vietnam veteran never imagined that one sweet older dog would not only touch his life as much as she does, but would inspire his entire northeast Florida community as well.
Brooklyn born peacemaker drafted to war
Paul grew up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn and frequently found himself playing middle man, helping keep the peace between the two groups. His popularity extended beyond his role as sidewalk diplomat; while attending Abraham Lincoln High School, he was an athlete who “had [his] share of girlfriends.”
Paul went on to study drama and journalism at New York University and spent much of the mid-60s working as an assistant stage manager, both on and off Broadway. In 1966, he had the unique opportunity to help open Lincoln Center and witnessed firsthand the now-infamous premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s Antony and Cleopatra, which has since been described as one of the worst opera productions in history.
Paul was drafted into the Army in 1967, when he was in his early 20s. He was in great physical shape at the time thanks to years of playing sports in school, so he had “no problem in basic training” with Rangers in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was then deployed to Vietnam where he served with the 3rd Cavalry as the Chaplain’s Assistant.
“I was his bodyguard,” he recalls. “I handled different problems.”
Although Paul’s time in the Army was colored by some dark moments, he did what he could to inject some of his pre-War passions into his new line of work.
“When I was in the service, I wrote an entertainment column for Stars and Stripes,” he remembers. Stars and Stripes was an authorized, but independent newspaper circulated among the U.S. Armed Forces of the Pacific Command, and remains a respected source of military news to this day.
“I used to send articles – just entertainment type things, little ditties, you know, about movies and different things,” he says.
From guys and girls to government
In 1969, Paul’s military career ended and he returned from Vietnam to Fort Lewis, Washington, which was a major area for troop movement at the time. As a result of his background in entertainment, he began working with the United Service Organizations (USO). In addition to serving as a liaison for comedians and singers who came to Fort Lewis to perform, Paul found himself with an arguably more important responsibility:
“I set up all the singles clubs for the guys and the girls, so they can get together. It was very fun,” he recalls. “I used to be invited to all the girls’ houses.”
The Vietnam veteran continued to work in the entertainment industry for several years, running a couple of nightclubs and rubbing elbows with the likes of Tom Jones and Steve Lawrence. Yet in spite of his love for the performing arts, Paul grew increasingly unable to ignore the injustice and cruelty that he saw in the world around him – and made a bold career change.
“When I was younger I used to do a lot of work with neglected and abused children… When I got older, and I came out of the service, things bothered me about children and women – the way they were being abused,” Paul explains. “So I went back to school, studied criminal justice, and worked for the federal government.”
Sweet as Sugar
Paul and his wife Mindy made the decision to rescue another companion dog after their beloved American Eskimo Dog, Sasha, passed away at the age of 17.
“My wife said to me, ‘Let’s go look at the dogs,’ and we went and looked,” Paul says of their first trip to Flagler Humane Society. “And my wife liked this particular dog, so I joined her, and for a few days we sat and looked at her and played with her, and we thought we would take her home.”
That particular dog was Princess Sugar, a six-year-old red Doberman known as Josie at the shelter. Her new name came easily to Paul and his wife, who were struck by the dog’s gentle nature.
“She was sweet and kind,” he explains.
Princess Sugar was well-received by the other members of Paul’s furry clan: Pippi the Italian Greyhound and several Siamese cats.
“She fit in. She was pretty easy to get along with,” he says. “At first, maybe a couple of weeks, she was a little nervous, and then she was fine.”
Flagler Humane Society is a Pets for Patriots adoption partner, helping locally approved veterans adopt a program eligible dog or cat for companionship. The shelter offers all Pets for Patriots adopters ‘day one’ essentials to help them get started, in addition to the many other benefits veterans enjoy through our charitable program.
Now that she has had time to settle in and get comfortable, Princess Sugar’s personality is really starting to shine.
“She is just like Scooby-Doo. [We] taught her to lie down. She sits. It’s hilarious. If you saw her, and you saw her face and her paws and what she does, it would remind you just of Scooby-Doo.”
“If someone came to the house, she can scare them,” Paul adds. “She’d be a good bodyguard, too. I always tell her how she protects us all, and she’s the enforcer, the protector of Mommy and Daddy and all the little kitty cats and Pippi.”
Princess Sugar loves playing with toys – particularly stuffed ones – and enjoys relaxing with Paul at night, often joining him to watch sporting events in the family room. Although he acknowledges that all of his pets are spoiled, Princess Sugar doesn’t seem to take anything for granted.
“She smiles, you know. My dogs smile, and I can see a big smile on her face,” he explains. “She’ll be a certain way with her lips, and you can see a big smile on her mouth when she feels good. It’s interesting, because you can see that. It’s very easy to recognize.”
A newsworthy adoption
Paul describes the adoption process at Flagler Humane Society as “very simple,” and is grateful for the benefits he received through Pets for Patriots. Our goal is not just to help the most overlooked companion animals find loving homes with veterans, but to help make pet parenthood more affordable for those who have served – or are serving – our nation.
“They give you about $150 for merchandise from Wag.com. We still have money,” Paul says. “So it’s very nice. You can get food, you can get a bed, you can get whatever you want.”
As it happens, Paul was the first Pets for Patriots adopter through our partnership with Flagler Humane Society. The Vietnam veteran soon found himself in the spotlight when his story went viral within the community.
“When I first got the dog Channel 13 News came and did a report and took pictures, and put it on the news,” Paul says with excitement. “And then a week later, the News-Journal in Daytona came and did a story on me, and put a big picture on the story plus the pictures of me and the dog. And then in Palm Coast, the Observer did a page on me and the dog.”
And all this was just in the first three weeks since Paul brought Princess Sugar home.
Paul hopes that the attention his adoption received might inspire other veterans and active-duty service members to consider rescuing a dog or cat. He notes that companion pets are wonderful for veterans coping with PTSD because of the sense of peace and contentment they bring.
“I think it’s great,” Paul shares. “I had PTSD from being in the service, and it helps a lot. And animals are a very beautiful part of your life. They give you a lot of solace and make you happy. And they make you feel good, and you make them feel good. It’s unconditional love.”