A Pit Bull dog who spent more than 450 days in a shelter, more than half of his life, is rescued by an Army war veteran coping with PTSD who found purpose in companion pets despite not being sure he was ready to care for them.
Go ahead, kid; make my day
Patrick enlisted in the Army to follow in the footsteps of his stepfather, uncle and grandfathers.
“They served their country and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor their service than to sign up myself,” he says. “I can drive a variety of vehicles and was assigned to a postal unit overseas. I transported incoming mail throughout theater and picked up outgoing mail to be processed and sent out.”
In the course of multiple deployments, including to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, one particular experience stands out among the rest.
“There was a point in one of our routes where we got hit pretty hard. It was utter chaos, a mess of sound and dust and no one had any idea of what was going on,” Patrick recalls. “All I could do was hit the accelerator and keep going, and follow the guy in front of me as we were getting hit left and right.”
Patrick’s experience highlights the fact that even soldiers not designated as combat personnel often work in areas where they are in imminent danger, and risk their lives to serve.
“The thought going through my mind initially was telling my folks goodbye and that I loved them,” he says. “I remember feeling very calm and very certain that if it was time to go I’d go full tilt and with my head held high. Luckily we made it and I was able to come home and tell them how much they mean to me.”
The Army veteran had another very memorable experience during his years of service, albeit a much less terrifying one.
“I remember coming home on leave and not having enough time to change into my civvies until I got to where I was headed,” Patrick says. “I had a rental car and stopped for gas, as I headed inside I noticed a group of teenagers milling about the entrance. It was pretty late and I wasn’t sure what these kids were doing out, they were skateboarding and having a good time joking with each other.”
Then, something unexpected happened.
“When I came into view they stopped to look, and one of them hopped up and opened the door for me,” he shares. “I said, ‘thanks,’ and he nodded and said, ‘thanks for your service.’ It was such a little thing, but I’ll remember that until the day I die. I was tired from my trip and ready to get home, and this kid just absolutely made my day.”
Of PTSD, companion pets and a sense of purpose
After spending much of his tours of duty overseas Patrick was ready to come home. He made a major move to be near those he loves dearly.
“My wife and I bought a home in Central Illinois, and we brought our dog Pandora and three cats – Alice, Amelia and Blink – all the way from Pennsylvania to start a brand new adventure,” he says. “It’s my hometown and we came here so I could be closer to my family.”
Patrick admits that when his wife first discussed getting another dog he thought it was a responsibility that he could not handle. He struggled to transition to civilian life after enduring the chaos and fear of serving in multiple war zones.
“I know that it’s been difficult for me at times,” he shares. “I’ve struggled with a lot of things after getting home, including PTSD, a handful of cognitive issues and substance abuse. Sharing my life with my pets has made it 110% better. Not going to lie, I spent a lot of time getting out of hand when I left the service. Felt like I had no purpose.”
Because of his struggles, the Army veteran was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of adding another dog to his family.
“When my wife mentioned getting a dog I initially thought ‘Oh boy, here we go. We have no business getting a dog.’ I am reminded of this constantly and I’ve never been happier to have been wrong in my entire life,” he says. “My pets enrich my life in so many ways, their friendship, the joy they bring to me, my life was changed for the better when we brought them into our family.”
For the love of dogs and cats
Patrick knows that pet overpopulation is a problem.
“I feel that it falls on each and every one of us to reach out and open our homes to those in need,” he says.
All of the companion pets that Patrick and his wife have acquired are giving him a sense of purpose he thought long lost after he left the Army. They were all later joined by Super Guy, a kitty that just showed up at Patrick’s home one day. The Army veteran is so committed to companion pet adoption that he started volunteering at his local animal shelter, Macon County Animal Control and Care Center.
While there, the Army veteran met a much overlooked Pit Bull dog who had been in the shelter for nearly half of his life, and learned about the shelter’s partnership with Pets for Patriots. We help veterans and active duty service members adopt a companion dog or cat for mutual friendship, love and healing, and focus on those most challenged to find homes for reasons of age, size, medical condition or special needs.
“I had been there for a few weeks when I learned about Pets for Patriots and, again, was pretty certain that we were loaded for bear with Pandora and four cats,” says Patrick. “Little did I know that Oliver was waiting patiently for us.”
Patrick admits that by the time he met Oliver, named Travis at the shelter, he was more open to the idea of adopting another pet. But it would have to be one very special pet.
“I felt that if I was going to get another dog I would want a dog that was having some trouble finding a forever home, for whatever reason,” Patrick explains. “Travis fit the bill. He’s a black Pit Bull who had been there for almost a year and a half. I felt like this was the universe telling me, ‘Hey, this program is MADE for you. You can definitely help out one more and make the most of this.’”
To make sure that Oliver would be a good addition to their family, Patrick and his wife fostered him through the Macon County Animal Control and Care Center’s ‘home for the holidays’ program, which gives sheltered animals a reprieve during the Christmas season.
Fostering sealed the deal.
“A few weeks later we made it official, Oliver was home!” “Patrick exclaims. “We got him in November and I really can’t imagine life without him. Oliver is wonderful, we love him and he’s made this family complete.”
From unwanted to beloved
After spending more than 450 days in a shelter, Oliver understandably needed time to adjust to his new and wonderful life.
“I love his personality,” Patrick says. “Being cooped up in a kennel for most of your life only to turn around and have the run of a house and a big yard must have been pretty intimidating. But it didn’t take long for his confidence to grow and his personality to shine through once he realized that, yep, this is HOME and he wasn’t going anywhere.”
Oliver is very respectful of his four-legged siblings, loves to “get his snuggle on” with Pandora and the cats, and listens very well to Patrick. But what he loves to do most is sleep on the bed with his mom and dad, earning him the nickname “Velcro dog.”
“He’s a snuggler, there is nothing he likes better than to head upstairs when it’s bedtime,” says Patrick. “Best feeling in the world to see him zonked out and sleeping peacefully.”
No better welcome home
Patricks admits that Pets for Patriots made the decision to adopt Oliver an easier one. The application process was simple, and the benefits and post-adoption support made a big difference.
“It’s is a fantastic organization that helped us so much,” he says. “I was on the fence about adopting another dog, but they made it a seamless process.”
“There is nothing quite like coming home and having Oliver get super excited and happy to see me, it’s something I look forward to all day,” he says. “It could be a long day or an overwhelming memory, but the thought of your best friend waiting for you at home makes it easier to smile, makes you confident you can handle your troubles, gives you a new purpose.”
Patrick believes that while veterans’ experiences during their time in service varies – where they have been, what they have seen and endured – having a companion pet always seems to make life better.
“Having Pandora and Oliver in my life gives me so much. I cannot describe how much my life is enriched because I have these two goofballs,” the Army veteran says. “They’re my best friends and I’m eternally grateful to have them in my life. I have a lot of great reasons to keep myself squared away, they need me and I need them. Cannot recommend this [program] enough.”
In the end, it does not matter who was more in need. The overlooked homeless dog who lived for more than 450 days in a shelter, waiting for his hero, or the Army veteran coping with PTSD and and other challenges as he adjusts to life after military service. Each needed – and saved – the other.
“There‘s so much in the world that can drag me down,” Patrick says. “Oliver and Pandora and the rest bring me back up.”
Click here to learn more about why you should adopt your next pet!