An Iraq war veteran had nearly shuttered himself in his house until a shelter dog with an ‘upbeat smile’ and hope for a home helped him reclaim his life.
September 11th: the day the world changed forever
Armando comes from a proud military tradition. He was raised by his grandfather, a Marine Corps veteran, and his uncle served in the Air Force. However, not all of the young man’s inspirations to join the military were so positive in nature.
“My 18th birthday being ruined on the 11th of September was also a small factor in enlisting,” he shares.
From 2004 through 2008 Armando served in the Army as a 92F petroleum supply specialist, during which time he deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) from his base in Fort Carson, Colorado.
Serving in a war zone offered no shortage of memorable experiences, but the ones that stuck with Armando most came about when he was living with some local Iraqis. During this time he came to appreciate the range of feelings that many locals had about the war – including inklings of hope for their futures.
“I met an older man who told me about when he was an engineering professor at the University of Baghdad,” Armando recalls. “His voice went from pain and sadness to happy and hopeful as he told me his story.”
“Saving lives on both ends”
After returning from war and separating from military service, Armando was anything but hopeful about his own life and prospects.
“After I got out of the Army I didn’t want to do anything or even be around people,” Armando says, “so a counselor at the VA suggested making a civilian friend.”
The counselor had a particular type of friend in mind: the four-legged variety.
Armando’s therapist realized that companion pets have natural, proven benefits on veterans’ mental, emotional and physical health. And the right dog or cat can be an ideal complement to more traditional forms of therapy.
Armando took the advice to heart and visited Pueblo Animal Services, a municipal shelter serving the Pikes Peak region of Colorado where he lives. A “battle buddy” accompanied him for support, and told him about Pets for Patriots’ companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
Once at the shelter, there was Bruno – a then four year-old Terrier-Poodle mix who appeared a bit thin and definitely in need of a grooming. He had just been made available for adoption the day that Armando walked into the shelter for the very first time.
“He was standing there with his smile,” the Army veteran recalls. “I needed his upbeat smiles and comforts, and he needed someone to give them to – and to bust him out [of the shelter]!”
Armando was given a brochure about our program and decided on the spot that he would apply to adopt Bruno through our partnership with Pueblo Animal Services.
“After reading the pamphlet about Pets for Patriots there was nothing I didn’t love about it,” he says. “Connecting veterans with shelter pets is such an amazing idea, saving lives on both ends.”
The shelter dog with the life-saving smile
As of this writing Armando and Bruno are together for four years.
Despite his age, Bruno shows no signs of slowing down and has the same zest for life that attracted the Army veteran to this spirited, life affirming, curly-haired dog.
Early in their relationship the pair made a movie trailer which – although not yet expanded into a longer film – served as a coming attraction to the adventure-filled life they would enjoy together. Armando is completing his associates degree in visual communications and is making “slow” yet steady progress on Bruno’s adventure movie.
The Army veteran credits this upbeat shelter dog with helping him reclaim his life since leaving the Army.
“If it wasn’t for Bruno I probably wouldn’t be anywhere but in the house,” Armando shares. “His smile is the support that I need when I need it, so I take him almost everywhere.”
Since adopting his life-saving companion Armando tells other veterans that animal shelters are a great place to look for some four-legged therapy.
“There are some good best friends at the shelters,” he says, :and Pets for Patriots makes it easier for veterans to find theirs.”