It took a four-legged “ghost” with an ever-wagging tail to help an Army officer cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the process, the shelter dog – coping with stresses of his own – found a new life as a much loved and constant companion.
Born to serve
Pedro knew from a very young age that he wanted to join the military; watching movies and seeing soldiers on the street made a lasting impression on him.
Eventually when Pedro came of age he learned more about serving in the military and, in 1994, joined the Army. After basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and advanced training as a helicopter mechanic at Fort Eustis in Virginia, he was assigned to his first duty station in Fort Drum in New York. Four years later he received orders to Germany and, in 2001, was stationed stateside at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
Upon completion of his tour of duty Pedro separated from the military, but just two years later found himself wanting to return to the life he loved. In 2004 he re-enlisted and was promoted in 2006 to supervisory roles in aviation units.
Multiple overseas tours followed. In 2005 the Army soldier was deployed to Iraq and twice – in 2007 and again in 2010 – Pedro served in Afghanistan. Since November 2011 he is stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he is in charge of his unit’s operations and responsible for the “coordination of travel, meetings, and VIP tours.”
The Army veteran expects to be promoted within the year and already has orders to deploy to South Korea in the fall of 2014. Despite his many long deployments, including to some of the most dangerous parts of the world, Pedro is living his dream.
“Now, throughout the years, I love what I do. I love putting my uniform on.”
Pedro’s enduring military service has created equally lasting memories. Basic training stands out in his mind in particular.
“I was scared at the time because I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “I was scared at the moment because a stranger was screaming at me [until] I realized it was a way to instill discipline. I started enjoying it more.”
The Army veteran recalls as well the first time he was entrusted with the responsibility of leadership.
“I was a young staff sergeant. My platoon sergeant approached me, said there was an opening, and wanted me to do the job,” he says, adding, “I didn’t think I was ready to be looked to as a leader.”
Undaunted by his momentary lack of confidence Pedro accepted the job, and learned how to balance reward and discipline.
“I picked it up pretty quick,” he says.
While Pedro adapted speedily to his new leadership role, deployments conjured up a strange mix of excitement and fear. They offered him the opportunity to put his training to work, but he always wondered if he would come home and see his family again.
Leaving a friend behind, in good hands
While Pedro was stationed in Kentucky he adopted a Pit Bull. He had her only eight months before he was deployed, but his sister agreed to take her for the year.
“At first, [she] was scared because of the stigma of them being evil dogs,” Pedro said, but the experience quickly changed his sister’s mind. “[She] didn’t want to give her back. My sister loved her; my niece loved her.”
In the end joint custody was agreed upon. “I got to take her for a few months,” he says.
In 2011, after what he believed would be his final deployment, Pedro learned the sad news that his dog had cancer.
“She wasn’t running and was in pain,” he says. “I took her to the vet to see if anything could be done; the cancer was too advanced.”
After the loss of his Pit Bull Pedro thought he would never get another pet. Yet time heals many wounds, even those of the heart.
“I thought I’d give it another try,” he says. “That’s when I went to the Baltimore Humane Society and found Ghost.”
“Ready to be a friend to somebody”
Pedro started his search for a new best friend the way many people do: on his computer. He scoured the humane society’s online listing of available dogs prior to visiting the shelter. At the time he was unaware that Baltimore Humane Society was a Pets for Patriots adoption partner, waiving all pet adoption fees and offering discount veterinary care at its low-cost spay/neuter and wellness clinic to veterans who join the nationally-operating program.
“I went online before going,” says Pedro, “Picked two or three dogs I wanted to see.”
One of those dogs – Ghost – was available because he was helping to train the shelter volunteers. He was the first dog Pedro asked to meet.
The Army veteran could tell that the then two year-old black lab mix was the one for him. Full of energy and always wagging his tail, Ghost seemed like such a happy dog despite being homeless and living in a shelter. More than that, however, Pedro sensed that he and Ghost were kindred spirits.
“He reminded me of me after deployments.”
As a function of his multiple deployments to hostile environments, Pedro often experiences stress in busy or crowded places. Ghost, for his part, was exhibiting signs of stress from living in the hectic environment of the shelter. Yet, the Army veteran was able to see the dog’s true nature.
“He was a loving dog,” Pedro observes, “ready to be a friend to somebody.”
Homecoming for person and pet
About a week after meeting at the shelter Pedro formally adopted the big black dog and brought him home.
“He was ready,” says the veteran, “he jumped right in the car and was ready to go.”
Ghost and Pedro bonded instantly – but only after Ghost took a much needed rest. Upon arriving at his new home the big dog perched himself at a window overlooking Towson University, and spent an hour enjoying the view before taking an extended 18-hour nap. Pedro understood that this is what Ghost needed.
“It’s his way of undoing the stress of being in a cage, the other dogs barking, people in and out,” he says.
Now settled into their new lives, the Army veteran and his four-legged battle buddy go everywhere together – and the dog is a big hit where ever the pair goes.
“He just wants to please me,” says Pedro. “I take him to work with me. He loves it. People there love him.”
The once homeless dog gives more than just love; he motivates his Army officer to be more active and lead a healthier lifestyle. Beyond the physical benefits, however, are equally valuable psychological ones as well. Pedro was diagnosed with PTSD and credits his adopted dog for helping him manage his stress.
“I want to go out more now. I get more exercise. I walk him, I run with him; he wins the sprints,” he says with a laugh, adding that Ghost is equally good for his soul. “I talk to him like a person. He lifts my spirits [and] I am happy that he enjoys time with me.”
Pedro plans to have Ghost accompany him to South Korea later this year and the Army already authorized him to bring Ghost along. Although the single officer barracks where Pedro would be staying does not allow pets, the Army veteran hopes to get “a house on base or off base so Ghost can come, too.”
Companion pet adoption with an organization that truly cares
Having learned about Pets for Patriots through the Baltimore Humane Society and finding his relationship with Ghost to be so therapeutic, Pedro now encourages other veterans to consider adopting their new best friends in the same way. He willingly participates in media opportunities, like this recent DVIDS video, to share his message beyond his own Maryland community.
“I’ve done some interviews that have been seen all over the world,” he says. “People I know in Korea and Germany say they’ve seen [the interview], and they will contact Pets for Patriots when they get back.”
The Army officer describes Pets for Patriots as “an awesome program” and appreciates the various benefits that he receives through the charity.
“Even though you think you’re ready for an expense,” says Pedro, “extra is always nice.”
What really sets the organization apart, however, is the ongoing support, sometimes just to see how man and dog are getting along.
“Every once in a while I receive a call or email to check on Ghost. I love that about them.”
Are you a veteran looking for your new best friend? Learn more about how Pets for Patriots can help.