Unwanted stray dog helps Army veteran battle substance abuse and PTSD

Unwanted stray dog helps Army veteran battle substance abuse and PTSD

Martina had a rough start in life. But the unwanted stray dog who was abandoned like yesterday’s trash would prove to be a treasure to a veteran coping with hidden demons.

The storied 82nd

Anthony served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 1980 to 1983. This elite Army airborne infantry force specializes in parachute assault operations and within 18 hours notice is required to deploy to any conflict zone in the world.

Although Anthony’s service was during the Cold War era, it was not without risk or consequence.

“Being in the 82nd I was involved in several different deployments as either an advisory support team, or a security force, or with a multinational peacekeeping force,” he says.

As a member of the 82nd Airborne Anthony was dispatched to all corners of the globe. His many high stakes assignments included deployment to Beirut, and missions related to the Israel-Egypt Land Treaty and the Soviet-Afghan War.

“…I witnessed a lot of terrible things”

The scars of Anthony’s service continue to this day.

For decades the Army veteran has been coping with the unseen wounds of his military experiences. He confides that he chose a destructive path in an attempt to be rid of his internal demons.

“As a young man I witnessed a lot of terrible things that no one should have to witness in their lives, and because of this I have for many, many years suffered from PTSD,” he shares. “Sorry to say, my solution was to self-medicate myself with alcohol. I’ve struggled my whole adult life with alcoholism and addictive medications.”

According to the Veterans Administration, as many as 20 percent of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) as well.

Anthony knew that his life could not continue on its self-destructive path. An innovative therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – or EMDR – would help him on his journey to recovery.

“I recently went to Florida to a treatment facility to undergo a specialized treatment for PTSD called EMDR,” he shares. “What a huge impact that was for me. But to start this treatment I had to first detox off alcohol and my medications.”

Anthony committed to the hard work of detoxification and started EMDR therapy. He would soon be on a new path, one that would cross with that of an unwanted stray dog.

One day at a time

With his newfound sobriety and tools to cope with his PTSD, Anthony set out to rebuild his life. At times he reflects on the people he lost along the way, especially those closest to him.

“Even though through my many years of alcoholism and PTSD outbursts,” he says, “I pushed away my two wonderful children and two ex wives.”

Anthony knows that he cannot rewrite the past. However, there are many more chapters in his life as yet unwritten.

Once the Army veteran reached bottom he did the hard work to detox, and entered treatment to learn how to manage his demons. It is work that he must continue every day of his life.

Anthony’s fortitude is bearing fruit. At time he sounds amazed that he was able to turn his life around.

“That at the age of 60 years old I was able to stabilize my skill trade job, [and] rebuild my credit to a point that I just bought my own house.”

Battling the demons

Anthony is deservedly proud of his newfound sobriety and ability to better cope with the impacts of PTSD. However, these successes delivered an unexpected challenge.

The Army veteran’s world suddenly felt very empty.

“Success with overcoming my demons does have its downfall,” he shares. “It’s called loneliness.”

Detox is not just about ridding oneself of the scourge of alcohol and drugs. It involves cleansing one’s life of negative habits and behaviors. Cutting off people who enable destructive behaviors and building a new, supportive, and sober social network.

“I have a lot of wonderful acquaintances, but very few close friends,” Anthony shares. “That I found myself sitting alone for hours by myself and being caught up in my own head is still not a comfortable place for me. That, that crazy thought came back to me – maybe just one drink – one drink to relax.”

A fight for sobriety

Thankfully Anthony did not reach for that drink; he reached for the phone instead.

“I told my one and truly close friend,” he says, “and he suggested getting a dog for a companion, that he was at the animal shelter with his daughter and they saw a poster about an organization called Pets for Patriots.”

Anthony followed his friend’s advice and went online to learn about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. He then got in touch with our director of veteran outreach, himself a combat veteran.

“I was introduced to a gentleman named Ted and, with his help, I was able to adopt Martina.”

The Army veteran was approved into our program at the end of January. Just three days later met an unwanted stray dog – an encounter that would change both of their lives.

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

For about a week there were sightings of a large, mixed-breed dog wandering near a public boat ramp.

Ironically, a handful of other dogs have been abandoned in that same neighborhood over time. Three of them – including Martina – would be adopted through our partnership with a local shelter.

Since 2014 Blount County Animal Shelter has offered veterans in our program fee-waived adoptions when they rescue eligible dogs and cats.

More than 130 animals to date have found loving homes through our work together.

During her time on the lam, the big unwanted stray dog found her way to a house near the boat ramp. A kind man named Marty took her in for the night. The next day a shelter volunteer from Blount County Animal Shelter picked her up.

From that day forward the dog would be known as Martina, named after the man who gave her that welcome night’s respite.

A four-legged friend

Martina was estimated to be about one year old. After arriving at the shelter she was subsequently adopted, but returned after attacking the family cat.

Adoption prospects for the unwanted stray dog did not look promising – until Anthony came along.

All the Army veteran wanted was a friend, a companion who would be by his side always. He needed someone to care for besides himself, someone who needed him as much as he needed her. A friend to keep his demons at bay.

So just three days after being approved into our program Martina and Anthony went home.

“She never leaves my side”

All new relationships require some adjustments, a few compromises. This would be no different.

“It’s been quite an interesting first three weeks being with Martina,” Anthony shares during a post-adoption follow up. “I have my own nickname for her. I call her ‘Baby Girl.'”

Seemingly overnight, Anthony felt a renewed sense of purpose. Caring for the once abandoned dog was just the kind of life affirming act that he needs to manage his sobriety and PTSD.

However, the Army veteran is not the only one whose life has turned around. Martina longed for the stability of a loving home after being abandoned and then surrendered. The once unwanted stray dog got what she needed, too.

“She never leaves my side, loves her new home and fenced-in backyard,” Anthony says. “She actually caught on very quickly to being housebroken. Loves playing fetch.”

Still, no relationship is without challenge.

“I have one problem with Martina,” Anthony shares, “being as tall as I am when she is stretched out and weighing 60 pounds. She sure is a bed hog.”

When Anthony was about to buckle under the unbearable weight of his loneliness he made the right decision to reach out to a trusted friend. That friend gave him wonderful advice to affirm his life – and that of an animal in need – by adopting a companion pet.

“And for that thought of me having a drink,” Anthony says, “well that hasn’t returned since Martina and I became a new family together.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    Thank you for saving Martina. Seems like, she may have saved you as well! You have come a long way and I applaud you for sharing your story. I hope Martina didn’t get in too much trouble for the mess she made in the photo you shared! :o)

  2. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, Anthony. Martina is a very lucky girl to be part of your life now. I wish you both many, many good years together. God Bless you both!

  3. Carolyn J Miller

    You and Martina make a beautiful pack! Never stop being proud of yourself for the courage it took to defeat the demons and opening up your heart and home to save yourself and the gorgeous Martina. You are a hero Anthony!!

    • MJ

      I couldn’t agree more!

Give with Confidence

candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
Petco Foundation

Shop 1800PetMeds for all of your pet’s health needs and we’ll get 10% of your purchase!

Shop BISSELL for your home cleaning needs and they will donate 10% of your purchase to us!

Because a shelter is not a home

Long-term shelter pets available for adoption