Military personnel who are raising children often worry that changing locations will create stress in their young family’s lives. Two Coast Guard parents solved the problem with an adopted dog – a Great Dane with a great personality – who had been in an animal shelter for a year.
Two parallel paths
Looking back on their teenage years, both Angela and Brad seemed destined for the careers they love.
It was Angela’s lifelong dream to work in the medical field. In her hometown of Edwardsburg, Michigan, (pop. 1,259) she saw early on that it would be necessary to leave home to pursue her goal. When she spoke with a United States Coast Guard (USCG) recruiter back in 2003, she knew instantly that becoming a corpsman was the route to career success.
“I’d receive the best possible training, backed up by the financial and housing support to make it all possible.”
Stepping up when disaster strikes
Working with the sick and injured, Angela’s job is filled with demanding responsibilities. But when Hurricane Katrina battered the nation’s Gulf Coast in the summer of 2005, she volunteered at once to fly to ravaged New Orleans to help out.
“I arrived three days after the hurricane hit,” she says. “The devastation was staggering. I ended up staying a month, helping out with medical treatment and emergency response, making excellent use of my training.”
Angela was grateful to bring comfort to people who were suffering in the aftermath of the storm, but admits that the humanitarian mission “was a sobering experience.”
Brad too had small-town beginnings. As a teenager in Bremen, Indiana, (pop. 4,612) he and his dad repaired tractors and other machinery for the many farmers in the area. He took these skills with him into the military and is now a machinery technician, stationed at Sector New York as well. Like his wife, he is a Petty Officer First Class.
For Brad, life in the Coast Guard has not always been about vessel maintenance. In his previous job he spent time in a search and rescue boat watching over the busy waters off New York City. It was a regular occurrence to find bathers in difficulty.
“One time there was a guy who’d been swimming off one of the local beaches when the undertow took him out. Once we got alongside him, he was so exhausted it looked like he was not going to stay afloat much longer,” he says. “Another crew member and I pulled him on board, performed first aid, CPR, and all the necessary emergency procedures. We had to keep him alive until we could get him back to land and hand him off to an ambulance.”
In the military and on the move
Angela and Brad both love serving in the military. But with two young children at home – five-year-old Jack and three-year-old Henry – their other important jobs as parents can become that much more challenging. Besides having to coordinate their duty days so that one of them is always home when the boys are sleeping, every few years they pack up and move to a new base.
“Over the space of a dozen years,” says Brad, “we’ve been stationed in Hampton Roads [VA], Grand Haven [MI], Detroit and New York, which is not at all unusual in the Coast Guard.”
The Coast Guard takes good care of its personnel when a Permanent Change of Station order is issued. Contained in the guidelines are warnings about the need for parents to protect their children against the inevitable stresses. As it happens, companion pets help children deal with the challenges that are a routine part of military life.
This is where Sabrina, a seven-year-old brindle Great Dane, plays an important role. The adopted dog provides stability and continuity for the boys when everything around them is new and scary.
Adopted dog a lifeline for two Coast Guard kids
“Our last transfer was a pretty big one,” says Angela. “But it was made a lot easier for the boys. They saw Sabrina at our old home and then they saw her at our new home. It took away a lot of the worry and confusion that comes with moving to a new city.”
Sabrina has a sweet and gentle nature, but at 85 pounds she’s a fairly large dog.
“People can be scared of her,” Brad says, “just because of her size and her ‘tiger’ stripes. But she loves people. She just doesn’t realize that not everybody immediately loves her back.”
When it comes to the boys, adds Angela, “she treats them like her puppies.” The children love to sprawl on the couch to watch tv, Sabrina right along with them, her lying on them or them lying on her.
If one of the children is unwell the big adopted dog seems to sense it.
“She always tends to get a bit more cuddly when one of them is not quite himself,” Angela says. “If they don’t feel good, Sabrina’s always extra calm and lays right next to them. They get a little bit more of her attention.”
The family recently grew by one more member, a year-old pup named Daisy. Adopted like Sabrina she’s about half her size, but with twice the energy. Sometimes Daisy becomes a bit too rough with the boys.
“Sabrina will not tolerate that,” Angela says. “She’ll make sure Daisy doesn’t get to play with Jack and Henry for a while.”
At the same time, the dogs are very much in the thoughts of her older son.
“When Jack comes home from school, the first thing he asks, ‘Were the dogs good?’ If they were, he gives them each a bone.”
“She had us at ‘hello'”
It’s questionable whether this Coast Guard family adopted Sabrina or Sabrina adopted them. She had been in the care of the Michigan Humane Society for a year when the family visited to look for a pet, and Angela and Brad were stationed at sector Detroit.
Sabrina was wandering in the dog run after another family had visited with her and left to think about adopting her. She was three years old at the time. The big dog caught a glimpse of Brad, and immediately trotted over and lay herself directly on his feet.
“As soon as she did that,” he says, “we knew she was ours.I guess you could say she had us at ‘hello.’”
While at the shelter, the Coast Guard couple learned about our partnership with Michigan Humane Society, which offers veterans in our program deeply discounted adoption fees and affordable care at their full-service veterinary clinics. Post adoption, Sabrina was eligible for a range of other benefits, all designed to make pet guardianship more manageable for military veterans.
In the four years that Sabrina has lived with her Coast Guard family this gentle giant has become a terrific companion.
“All our lives have expanded since we adopted her,” Angela says. “It’s kind of like we weren’t complete until she arrived. She became part of our family before we knew we needed her to become part of our family.”