Charles is an Air Force veteran who suffered with a deep and prolonged depression until he took a chance – on a shelter dog named Chance – and regained a sense of purpose in his life. Our thanks to Charles for sharing his tale, and to Big Dog Ranch Rescue for helping us make this story possible.
Chance was shipped to Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Wellington, Florida from a high kill shelter in Georgia. He had only been there a few days when we made our trip to meet some potential dogs available for adoption. We knew right away he was the one.
I served in the United States Air Force for six years active duty and two years [with the] Air National Guard. Like many 17- and 18-year olds I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school, but I knew college was not for me at the time – even though I played ice hockey and had the chance to play college Hockey. Academically, I was not ready.
I spent the first several months going to different bases in the United States, getting my training and education in electronics to work on F-15 Strike Eagles. After that I spent [more than] three years in Bitburg, Germany. I loved Europe and traveling all over the place there. I even played ice hockey for my base team. Some of the best times I had were doing temporary duty assignments at foreign bases. You got to really know how people from small villages live and appreciate the things you have.
After Germany, I came back stateside and spent a very short few months at Seymour Johnson [AFB] in North Carolina. This base was just transitioning from F-4’s to F-15’s when I got there. Since I had just about four years of experience I was looked at for a lot of guidance during this transition.
Unfortunately, this is the time when Kuwait was invaded.
We were immediately shipped out. We didn’t know where we were going or what was going to be there for us when we arrived, but we knew this is what we trained for and why we volunteered. We did what needed to be done without questions.
Living in an area that is constantly at war and not knowing what was going to happen day to day was tough. It takes a toll on you mentally. We lost pilots and friends. We heard negative reports from the states. Even though you have plenty of supporters the negative ones seem to reach you the most. Not only that, [but] I believe I missed the people I became close to.
After the war, depression takes a heavy toll
After the military I bounced around. Not knowing why I couldn’t stay in one place or keep a job for more than a year, I just thought I was young and didn’t want to be stuck in one place. I even went through a couple of marriages.
It’s taken me a long time to understand and see what happened. I was depressed and angry. I still fight with it every day.
I did manage to stay in college long enough to get my degree in accounting and take the CPA exam, which has helped give me some confidence back.
I would say my life has really changed a lot over the past few years. I work for an unbelievably great company, been here for four years, and I met someone who tries every day to understand me and work with me on my depression. We have been married for a year now. Since she works for a fire department and is gone for 24 hours at a time she would get worried about leaving me alone, so we discussed getting a dog.
Take a Chance on me
We actually went to the Ranch a couple of times to meet dogs, but at first none of them felt just right. I knew from past experience that meeting the right dog would have a certain feel to it. Like finding a long lost friend after 15 years. This is where Chance came in.
At first he was a little nervous near me, but he absolutely loved my wife’s son, who is 10. They chased each other for a good 20 minutes and became fast friends. This was one of our requirements: the dog needed to be great with kids. The other two were, being able to bring him to public places and not worry he would hurt someone and finally be dog friendly so we could bring him to play with other dogs.
He keeps us laughing and playing. He definitely loves to cuddle. He and I have grown very close and pretty much go everywhere we can together. My wife even takes him on Starbucks runs and gets him a cup of ice water there. She puts the cup in the cup holder and he drinks from there.
Chance is definitely my shadow. He loves to sit with me whether I am working out in the garage or sitting on the hill outside of our house. He will just come over [and] sit next to me, and either lean on me or lay his head on me. He helps take a lot of stress away from me and eases my mind if I start to feel depressed.
Chance has been unbelievable. I needed him as much as he needed me.
If you are or know a veteran coping with depression, find out how a companion pet can help.