It took the healing powers of a shelter dog to help one Air Force veteran come to grips with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and aid her continuing sobriety.
Robin is a Vietnam War Air Force veteran struggling with PTSD, an alcoholic with almost two years of sobriety and has put an abusive marriage behind her. For a time, she was so self-destructive that she became homeless. Ultimately, she was referred to HudVash, a nationwide Veterans Administration (VA) service that helps homeless veterans get back on their feet and into their own homes.
Paying it forward
Now independent and sober, Robin hopes to apply her life experiences to help other female veterans just like her. For the next two years, she’ll be in school working towards her associates degree in social work, thanks to a Pell Grant and the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. She hopes to do a practicum at the local Boston Veterans Office or VA and would be thrilled work at either facility once her studies are complete.
Robin believes that if you can’t work it out, you can’t heal. She knows her empathy for other struggling female veterans will help others relate to her, and that perhaps she can help them overcome their own personal demons and find a better life.
Excited about her plans, Robin says, “I have a big door that is open and waiting.”
A billboard and a dream
Robin was 18 years old when she enlisted in the Air Force. She wanted to go to college to study foreign language, but her parents couldn’t afford it and her father subsequently was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She confesses that she was so immature at the time that she couldn’t handle the situation or listen to her parents cry. It was too much.
One day, an Air Force recruiting billboard got her attention.
She met with a recruiter and shared her hope of becoming a translator for the Air Force. While that particular job did not happen for her, Robin did become an Air Passenger Specialist responsible for boarding military personnel, and sometimes their families, on flights traveling to and from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, as well as to Travis Air Force Base in California. Many of the enlisted men would continue to Vietnam from Travis.
Just a teenager, Robin didn’t know much about life, and her new job in the Air Force was an emotional awakening for her – one she remembers as an extraordinary experience.
“It was the beginning of a journey for some,” she reflects, “and the end for others when they were able to return home.”
Shelter dog to the rescue
With her military service many years behind her and her PTSD and sobriety both under control, Robin was ready for a new responsibility: pet ownership. Growing up, she always had a dog in her life and felt was ready for another one. A social worker at the Boston VA told her about Pets for Patriots; she was excited to learn that there was a program right in her backyard.
Soon after Robin was accepted into Pets for Patriots and told the organization’s local adoption partner what she was looking for, the Quincy Animal Shelter called to tell her they found what they believed to be the right dog for her needs.
The moment Robin saw Tucker, at the time a four-and-a-half year-old Pomeranian, she knew he was the one.
“This is my dog,” Robin thought to herself, and sent him a mental message: “Don’t you dare get adopted by anyone else. You’re coming home with me.”
The adoption staff at the Quincy Animal Shelter agreed, seeing that Robin and Tucker were a great match.
“They didn’t even know me,” she says, “but somehow, they knew I was right for Tucker. They were wonderful.”
Robin has high praise as well for The Quarry Hills Animal Hospital, Pets for Patriots’ veterinary partner that provides an ongoing 15% discount for the charity’s members who adopt an eligible pet through the program.
“He makes my life complete”
Robin’s experience has been so positive that she talks about the nationwide charity every opportunity she gets.
“Veterans are a community and, as a member of that community, it’s important that I share opportunities and resources like Pets for Patriots, which is a wonderful program,” she says.
But Robin reserves her highest praise for her former shelter dog, Tucker.
“Tucker follows me everywhere,” she says. “He is my best friend and confidant. He listens to me singing and accepts it. He expects nothing and gives me everything. We are always there for each other; we give each other what we need. It’s a wonderful feeling. No one in my life ever did this for me. He was given to me, and now I can give back to others the same love and loyalty he provides to me every day.”
Robin sums up neatly what Tucker has done for her: “He makes my life complete.”
How does your pet help you cope with difficulties in life?