Duane is an Army veteran who, like many of his era, received little appreciation for his service. Following the death of a beloved pet, he adopted a little dog who gave him what he needed most: love and acceptance.
A proud military career
After serving in the Army from 1971-2006, Duane retired as a Sergeant Major. From his more than 20-year career he has his share of memories – some good, some bad – including a fond recollection of the Koreans who lived near where he was stationed. Having served there for a year, he had come to appreciate many of the locals and their way of life.
“You’re on a compound up on the border and it’s kind of exciting. You get used to the culture, they’re friendly people,” he says, adding with a laugh, “except for the Commies on the other side.”
The Army veteran recalls one experience when the enemy tried to blow up their helicopter.
Like many veterans who served during the 1970’s, Duane was at times on the receiving end of harsh and hurtful behavior by people back home who did not support the Vietnam War. He recalls “people spitting at you in the airports” and feeling generally unappreciated for his service.
Despite these experiences, he continued to serve in the Army until 2006 before ultimately retiring to a quiet life in Michigan.
Grief, loneliness and ‘Get me out of here!’
One month after his beloved dog died, Duane found himself missing the companionship, loyalty and friendship that comes with having a dog. He realized that he not only wanted a dog, but needed one.
During a visit to the Humane Society of West Michigan, the Army veteran learned about their partnership with Pets for Patriots, a nationally operating charity that helps veterans save the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats: adult and special needs pets, and large dogs.
“I was very impressed and happy to be able to qualify for the program,” he says.
The Army veteran admits to being a little aimless in his search.
“I didn’t know what I wanted,” he recalls. “I was just looking.”
Fortunately, Duane was accompanied by a lifelong friend and her adult granddaughter, who saw a little dog named Lizzy.
“Right away she said, ‘That’s the dog you want.’”
Duane came over to Lizzy’s kennel to look at the then two year-old Terrier mix for himself. That sealed the deal.
“She was cute and came right up to me,” he says with a smile in his voice, “looking through the cage like she was saying, ‘Get me out of here!’”
The shelter staff brought Lizzy into a meet-and-greet room to see if she and Duane connected – and did they ever. The Army veteran fell in love instantly with everything about the vivacious little dog: he loved her spirited attitude and even how she looked at him.
That moment, she was his and he was hers.
Of car rides, belly rubs and best friends
Lizzy was a little nervous at first, but it didn’t take more than a few weeks for her to settle in to her new life, which includes following Duane everywhere.
Not that the Army veteran is complaining. He likes the fact that Lizzy is “protective of me like crazy and is quite the little guard dog.” It makes him realize how important he is to her; that he matters to her as much as she to him.
“She likes to go out with me, and in the house stays right next to me,” Duane says. “I work on my pontoon boat and she stays right next to me. She just lays there and watches me.”
The little dog even makes sure that Duane gets his exercise.
“We go on walks, too. We live by the lake and walk around the lake.”
One of Lizzy’s favorite games is a twist on ‘catch me if you can.’
“She likes to run and chase me,” says Duane.“It’s like a game and she’s quick.”
Once in the house, however, and Lizzy becomes the ultimate lounger. She can easily hop up on Duane’s chair and make herself at home, either in his lap or just beside him.
“She’s like a lap dog and will lay right next to me in my recliner,” he says, adding, “She’ll jump up on the chair and ask to have her belly rubbed.”
When she’s not basking in belly rubs, Lizzy likes to stand guard from her perch on the back of the couch where she can see out the window. One small challenge for Duane is that Lizzy wants to go with him – everywhere. Although she didn’t enjoy car rides at first, she’s become an excellent traveling companion.
“First time she rode in my car she was shaking and now she likes it. I have to roll down the window so she can stick her nose out,” he says, adding with a laugh, “but she learned not to jump in my lap when I’m driving.”
The shelter knew little about Lizzy’s prior life, though Duane suspects that somewhere along the way she was taught good manners. She doesn’t beg for human food, but take her to the pet store and all bets are off.
“She acts like a little kid,” says Duane. “If I go to the store and she wants one of those beef sticks, she’s like a little kid waiting for a sucker.”
While nothing can replace a beloved pet who died, Lizzy fills Duane’s life with her own special brand of joy.
“She doesn’t really care for toys, but she likes taking my socks at night,” says the Army veteran. “She sets them by her bed and then goes to sleep.”
When asked how the little Terrier has improved his life, Duane does not hesitate.
“She doesn’t talk back, she’s a real good friend. She’s a companion, she’s there.” Thinking for another moment, he adds, “She’s my best friend.”