Leo was a bouncy, big-eyed shelter dog itching for a new start in life. He found it with an Army combat medic who needed help to fix his broken heart.
War and peace
In 1965, Alex enlisted in the United States Army. He started basic training in Fort Polk and combat medic training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Shortly thereafter he trained for a position as a neuropsychiatric technician, doing on-the-job training in San Francisco.
After serving in his final duty station at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Alex took a 10-year break from the service, but rejoined the military by enlisting in the Utah National Guard.
It was during this tour of duty that Alex deployed in support of Desert Storm – known as the Persian Gulf War – where he was the Chief Wardmaster at the 144th Evacuation Hospital. He was subsequently promoted to First Sergeant, transferred to the 625th Military Police Company and deployed to Panama for a “law and order” mission.
A long military career offers many memorable moments, but one stood out in Alex’s mind more than all the others.
“Building a 400-bed field hospital from the ground up,” he recalls with pride, noting that the team beat the 14-day deadline with two days to spare.
In August of 1999 and after more than 20 years of military service, Alex received an Honorable discharge and retired from the Army.
Cure for a broken heart
Despite retirement Alex remains a busy man. He has become very involved with the American Legion and his responsibilities require frequent travel across the state of Utah. Yet life took a wrong turn when the Army veteran suffered the painful loss of his beloved dog – and the broken heart that followed.
This mournful time, however, inspired Alex to do address his grief by giving a shelter dog a new chance at life.
Alex visited the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter, where an observant staff member noticed him sporting an Army baseball cap and told him about their partnership with Pets for Patriots. The shelter waives pet adoption fees for veterans in our program, a big cost-savings that is additional to the benefits of our program.
The Army veteran remembers that fateful day very well.
“I went looking for an animal for comfort,” he says. “I dropped by the pet shelter and found this big-eyed dog bouncing at every chance to be held.”
That big-eyed, bouncy dog was Leonardo – Leo for short – a large, young Beagle mix.
The pair had an instant connection and the rest, as they say, is history.
Shelter dog a perfect cure
Although impossible to replace the loss of a beloved pet, it is possible to find love and comfort by saving the life of a pet in need. Alex found just that.
“He really enjoys going for rides in my truck,” he says, “[and] thinks he is supposed to drive.”
In fact, the former shelter dog has become the perfect travel buddy. The pair criss-cross the state for Alex’s duties with the Legion, but enjoy more leisurely pursuits as well.
“We take him camping with us,” Alex shares. “And he has been a blessing, especially with his energy level. He was easily house broken and has learned to open the back door to let himself in.”
The Army veteran admits to not having been completely prepared for the “bouncy” aspect of Leo’s personality, but has adjusted to his most energetic companion.
“He has lots more energy than I ever expected, but I am getting used to that.”
A perfect fit
It is not only Leo’s exuberance that gets Alex’s attention; the Army veteran is in awe of his intelligence. True to his breed Leo is people-oriented and friendly, and has proven to be an excellent judge of character.
“He loves to be around all the people I know,” he says. “Leo also has quite the intuition and can tell who the ‘good guys’ are.”
The big-eyed shelter dog offers not only companionship, but clarity of mind and spirit, even as his zest for life sometimes comes at inconvenient hours.
“He keeps me happy and focused on everything around me with his large amount of energy,” Alex shares, “sometimes waking me at 0200.”
The combat medic replaced grief with joy, and a big-eyed shelter dog found hope and a home – both shining examples of what Pets for Patriots represents. Alex has since become supportive of other veterans adopting a companion dog or cat through our program, and recommends us “constantly.”
“I tell them now how this program assisted me to adopt a pet, and supported us through the initial stages of getting him home.”
Home now has renewed meaning for this Army veteran. While the memory of his beloved dog will always remain, home is once again a place of joy. And for the bouncy, big-eyed dog named Leo, home is what every shelter dog and cat hopes to find: a permanent and loving respite from the uncertainties of shelter life, a chance to love and be loved.