The dogs of war
Amanuel is a retired Vietnam veteran. After joining the Army at the height of the Vietnam era in 1968, his service took him across the world throughout the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America as a military policeman (MP). He saw his share of the bitterness of military life and conflict zones.
Yet “Ray,” as he is known, maintains a pleasant demeanor. He does not carry with him the hostility or detachment some might associate with a hardened combat veteran. To the contrary, he has a youthful energy despite no longer being a youth.
“I was always gung-ho,” he says.
Ray retired as Master Sergeant in 1990, after more than 20 years in the Army. Although long separated from service he often reflects upon the bonds he created with soldiers of a different stripe: military working dogs (MWD).
As an MP, Ray trained and deployed with MWDs. The dogs were mostly German Shepherds and were trained to conduct law enforcement and security operations, both at home and abroad.
But combat is chaos and never without loss – and that loss may be physical, emotional or both.
In one engagement Ray’s trusted MWD was killed by enemy fire in Vietnam. And the loss of a battle buddy is devastating to service members, whether the fallen is human or canine. But Ray’s love for his dogs never waned.
Even though he has long since retired from service, the bonds endure. Ray knows his MWD died in honorable and courageous service to his country – protecting the life of his handler and his unit.
Out of the service, but still serving
For so many years, the military was Ray’s life.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” he shared.
Yet Ray’s desire to serve others did not diminish after he separated from the Army. The retired Vietnam veteran started working with troubled youth at a group home in Huntsville, Alabama. His law enforcement skills in the Army prepared him to work within a new type of combative environment.
Some of the youth are prone to violence or other behavioral issues that few are equipped to handle. Yet Ray’s skills, training, and sense of duty renew his motivation to endure yet another difficult mission.
Retired Vietnam veteran tackles a new challenge
Ray and his wife, Valentina, had an affection for shelter pets and wanted to adopt.
While the couple already had a Yorkipoo named Maxi whom they adored, they thought it would be a great idea for her to have a friend and playmate. The pair searched various shelter websites for a new companion and were referred to Pets for Patriots by the Greater Huntsville Humane Society.
Since 2014, the shelter has partnered with us to help adopt dogs and cats in their care into loving military homes. They offer a 25 percent discount to veterans in our program as a gratitude for their service.
It was through the Greater Huntsville Humane Society that Ray and his wife first saw Snookie.
At the time, Snookie was a then seven year-old Chihuahua-Papillon mix, surrendered by a woman who could no longer care for her.
The shelter staff initially had trouble integrating the senior dog into the shelter, and Snookie would sometimes nip at handlers and veterinarians. She seemed scared and hostile towards men, possibly because she had rarely been around them.
Ray was undeterred.
“I liked her right away,” he says.
It was not long til Ray and Valentina visited the shelter to meet Snookie in person. Ray and the senior pup formed an “instant bond” once they met. And despite her anxiety around men in the past, Snookie took to the seasoned veteran almost immediately.
Still, the little dog’s feisty nature shined through.
“She was a little demon,” Ray says.
Yet on that day and in spite of her occasionally combative nature, Snookie found herself a forever home.
Bonded buddies and their woogies
Snookie and Maxi now spend their days playing together with their “woogies” – Ray’s name for the braided colorful rope chew toys both dogs enjoy.
“I love to watch them,” Ray says with smile in his voice. “It sounds like a herd of cattle.”
And while the dogs may spend time Valentina during the day, Snookie is “daddy’s girl” once Ray comes home. Then, she will immediately jump onto his lap for some love and treats.
These days, the family of four enjoys planning trips to lakeside resorts around the southeast United States on their new RV. The senior dog whom Ray once described as “a little demon” has settled nicely into her new life – and in return she has given something back to her savior.
“She brings out the best in me.”