Vincent is a Bronx native who describes his years in the Navy as among some of the most memorable moments in his life, despite his transition from service to civilian including a period of homelessness and despair. Working through his own hardships led the Navy veteran to a dog in need of hope and a home: a Pit Bull mix named Greta who became one of the loves of his life.
“She needed me – she needed a home, so I gave her a home,” says Vincent, “and now we just need each other.”
Serving is a family tradition
Vincent is one of many in his family to serve in the United States Navy. The tradition began with his grandfather and continued with his father, uncles and brother. After high school, Vincent attended college for a year and decided that he just “was not ready for it.” He enlisted in the Navy and spent four years deployed overseas stationed on the USS Nimitz, which at the time was the largest aircraft carrier in the world.
Vincent describes his time aboard the Nimitz as an “awesome experience,” and enjoyed the all of the travel that was part of his military service.
Turbulent transition from sea to civilian life
Once his tour of duty was over Vincent found himself in a situation that many veterans find challenging: making the transition from military to civilian life. He returned home to a life and world that felt very different than the ones he left four years earlier.
Unable to cope, Vincent joined the ranks of the nearly 50,000 United States military veterans who are homeless on any given night.
With help from the Veterans Administration’s HUD-VASH program for homeless veterans, Vincent was given a place to live and furnishings – for which Vincent is eternally grateful. Having a regular home was the catalyst for other positive changes in his life, including a return to college to study computer science and eventually interning for Verizon, which subsequently offered him a full-time job.
Life was looking up for the Navy veteran, but stormy seas were on the horizon.
Adrift in a deepening depression
Vincent enjoyed his newfound stability and his new job with Verizon, which like other large companies has made a commitment to hiring military veterans. They approached him with another excellent opportunity for career advancement that requires additional schooling, and are paying the once-homeless veteran’s tuition in full.
Everything seemed to be going Vincent’s way.
The father of four adult children – three girls and one boy – was on his feet again. He had an excellent job with a company that valued his service, and supported his career advancements. And although the Navy veteran recognized that he had so much for which to be grateful, he found himself lonely and in the midst of a deepening depression.
Once again, Vincent turned to the VA for help. He was surprised, and delighted, at their prescription.
“An emotional support dog was recommended from the VA to help with depression and loneliness,” he shares.
Unlike a service animal who is task-trained to address an individual’s specific physical or psychological disability, an emotional support animal (ESA) s a companion pet prescribed by mental health professionals to alleviate symptoms of a person’s emotional disability. The only legal access given to ESAs are relief from certain restrictions in no-pet housing or those that require pet deposits, and the ability to accompany their guardians in the cabin of commercial aircraft.
Bonded by homelessness and hardship
During her two short years, Greta had a hard luck life.
The Pit Bull mix was found wandering the streets, seemingly abused and definitely terrified. Unlike too many homeless dogs, she was lucky. She found herself in a program that trains homeless dogs in state prisons to help them acquire the basic skills they need to increase their chances of being adopted.
Vincent adopted Greta through a partnership between Pets for Patriots and New Leash On Life USA, which operates a prison dog-training program that benefits both those who are incarcerated and the animals they help prepare for adoption. The prisoners gain valuable life lessons and marketable skills for when they are released, and the dogs leave the program knowing basic commands that will make them more attractive to prospective adopters.
Since rescuing Greta, the Navy veteran’s emotional and physical health have improved in meaningful ways. Vincent and Greta spend a lot of time out of the house together, going for walks and long drives.
“We go to the dog park and take long walks,” Vincent says, adding that Greta loves to travel in the car as well and even has her own luggage.
Equally if not more important, Vincent’s depression is subsiding with each passing day. Man and dog are helping one another overcome their shared experiences with homelessness – and Vincent is providing the patience and understanding Greta needs to heal from her previous abuse.
Vincent understood that Greta needed special attention and knew that he could fill that need. Still very fearful when the Navy veteran brought her home, the emotionally scarred Pit Bull was scared to leave his side and followed him everywhere. In time, however, Greta has learned that Vincent will never leave her and she accompanies Vincent nearly everywhere he goes, including visits to the Bronx “to visit her grandparents.”
Now at the end of a work day, Vincent looks forward to going home.
“I come home to have someone to talk to every day now,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine coming home without her greeting me.”