When depression took its toll on a disabled Vietnam veteran whose dog had just died, he knew it was time to save another last-chance rescue dog. In the process, he saved himself.
Born in Chicago, Frank was a toddler when his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1973, he relocated to San Diego, a place where he loves to live and volunteer.
In 1974, Frank joined the Navy reserves as a cryptology and radar specialist. He spent 20 months on an aircraft carrier off the Vietnam coast and the remainder of his enlistment as assistant to an admiral in Miramar, California.
“I never drilled one day. I was there to keep the Navy people honest,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t have decks and bulkheads; I had floors and walls. I had what people would call a good naval career where I didn’t sail a lot.”
After his honorable discharge in 1980, Frank worked at General Dynamics, Delta Airlines and Boeing, building large backup generators for computer systems. In 2003, he got injured and has since been disabled.
Little dogs fill a big void in Frank’s life
Without a clear sense of purpose, Frank decided to rescue his first miniature Schnauzer, 11 year-old Otto, and train him as a service dog. When Otto eventually died, Frank was without a pet for almost three months. The absence took a heavy toll.
Everything changed one summer day when Frank spotted Gus, another miniature Schnauzer, at a Los Angeles shelter. In spite of being only four-and-a-half, Gus was a site for sore eyes.
“He was a pathetic-looking, underweight dog with all the fur chewed off his bottom,” says Frank. “I looked at him and said, ‘okay.’ He had obviously been terribly neglected.”
Frank knew Gus wasn’t going to have a lot of takers.
“Being an adult shelter dog in that condition, he was not the kind of dog people would want to take home. When I took him out to the car, he put his paws on the dashboard and acted like he was escaping from jail. After about 20 minutes, he slowly came closer and ended up in my lap with his head on my left shoulder for the rest of the trip.”
The name on his dog tag is Gustav, after Frank’s great-great grandfather, but he should really be called a savior.
Health and healing, for pet and person alike
“In the three months between Otto and Gus, I really noticed the difference in my life,” Frank says. “Everyone used to always greet Otto first and then me. Otto and Gus have brought a lot of joy to my life. They’ve been trained to open doors and drawers and pick up things I drop on the floor so I don’t have to bend over, but it’s more than that.
“The emotional support Otto and Gus have given me is amazing.”
Training Gus has taken a little longer than Frank expected, because he’s motivated more by praise than by food. He would rather be petted and told he’s a good boy as a reward.
“Gus serves as an awareness guide as I’m blind in my right eye and deaf in my right ear. He’ll bark to let me know if something’s going on I should know about. He is also my walking coach and leader.”
Little Gus has done wonders for Frank’s physical and emotional health. Formerly sedentary, at 64 Frank now walks two miles a day with Gus.
“My blood pressure and weight have gone down and my mood has improved,” he says. “Since I have a mild problem with depression, that’s a big plus. The walking also keeps up my muscle tone so I have less of a stability problem and more stamina.”
Frank isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of pet adoption. As an adult dog, Gus was saved from near certain death at the shelter.
“Gus is the dog I was supposed to get,” says Frank. “He likes to be the center of attention and everybody loves him. One of my doctors refers to him as my calling card because he engages me in conversations with folks all the time.”
Once “pathetic” dog now a local celebrity
Frank’s pet friend is even a little famous. One day while attending a concert at Balboa Park, a photographer for the Spreckels Organ Society took Gus’ picture, which now adorns the site. In a rare twist, Otto was previously photographed for the site, a coincidence not lost on Frank.
Frank thanks Pets For Patriots for helping him adopt Gus, which made an exception when he found Gus in a non-participating shelter.
“I am extremely happy that I found Pets For Patriots,” Frank says, “it’s a really good organization that cares about what’s going on both with dogs and veterans.”
Even his doctor took notice.
“My vet works with veterans. He sees the radical difference and improvement in them after they’ve adopted a dog.”
“I know a veteran who adopted a Saint Bernard named Petunia. He’s 5’6”, skinny with a beard and he can actually ride the dog. I’m 6’3″ and have a 20 pound, 14-inch tall dog.”