The quiet hero
A hero is defined as ‘a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.’ They do not all receive medals or public accolades, but walk among us every day and deserve to have their stories told.
Such is the case with Robert, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and feels his own story is unremarkable. He is not a decorated war hero. The shelter dogs he adopted during the course of his lifetime did not help him with any service-connected disabilities.
Yet this Vietnam veteran’s love for and commitment to saving the most overlooked animals in need makes him a hero of another stripe.
Life, love and loss
It was 1965 and Robert was just about to graduate college with a liberal arts degree when he realized that his career options were limited. The technical fields were booming at the time, but he had no experience in chemistry and physics – both of which were in high demand. Yet after speaking with Navy recruiters on campus, he began to envision new career opportunities in the military.
Robert made the decision to enlist and, about a month after graduating college, he was officially a member of the United States Navy. He started training in Rhode Island and was ultimately deployed to Vietnam. Like many veterans of his era, he chooses not to talk about those experiences.
Life after the war held some of the Navy veteran’s fondest memories, as well as some of his most profound losses.
After taking a job at Ryder Truck Rental Robert met his wife, who was employed by the company as well. They moved to Florida and started their own travel agency, and spent the next twenty-five years there until they moved to North Carolina and bought another travel agency. Sadly, eleven years ago, Robert’s wife passed away. Shortly thereafter, in 2005, Robert retired.
In spite of missing his beloved wife, the Navy veteran is enjoying his retirement thanks in large part to the four-legged family members who are an integral part of his life.
Send in the hounds
The most rewarding part of retirement for Robert is the ability to spend as much time as possible with his dogs. Since moving to North Carolina he has had six companion dogs – as many as four at a time – and is a huge advocate for pet adoption. Not only is he saving lives, but he is enriching his own.
“I call them free entertainment,” he says.
After losing a couple of his companions to old age, Robert had just two dogs left in his home: Blue, a Blue Tick Hound-Beagle mix who is “mostly black with long floppy ears” and “black and white speckled legs” – and Maggie, an ailing 15 year-old Shih Tzu.
Robert decided that five year-old Blue needed a buddy, since she was accustomed to the company of other, more active dogs and was “gaining weight due to lethargy.”
Naturally Robert went straight to the shelter to adopt, believing that the companion dog he was meant to save would choose him.
“You will know when you see the right one,” he says with confidence.
After spending some time with one dog Robert saw a man walk in with a Jack Russell-Beagle mix. Robert knew that he was the one for him. They clicked immediately and the newly named, three year-old Baxter was heading home to spend his life with Robert, Blue and Maggie.
Sadly, Maggie died a mere ten days later. Robert was philosophical, having dealt with this type of loss before.
“So my Maggie at least got to meet Baxter,” he says, “and show him the good peeing spots around our yard.”
Saved from neglect
It is not always possible to know the history of an adopted dog or cat, but Robert lives in a relatively small community and was able to learn a bit about the conditions of Baxter’s prior life.
It seems the sweet hound had belonged to a man who had far too many dogs and could no longer give them appropriate care. They were found living in his yard, subject to neglect. Two of them were removed from the situation by local animal control, including Baxter.
Now Baxter gets the attention and love he deserves. He and Blue were the best of friends from the beginning. Blue has lost a couple of pounds, and is now more fit and active thanks to Baxter and his love for running. Robert credits Baxter’s infectious, high energy to for him becoming more active as well.
“I call him Mr. Enthusiasm,” he says. “Sometimes he is Circus Boy from all the circles and flips he does, and sometimes he’s just Wild Man who flies around the yard…His middle name is Go.”
Fortunately for Robert and Blue alike, Baxter does eventually tire.
“His motor runs and runs,” he says, “and then it finally dies out and he’s sound asleep anytime of day or night. We love him.”
Of cookies, cocktails and cigars
Baxter, like most companion dogs, thrives on routine. Early each morning he jumps up on Robert’s bed to help him get the day started, but he knows when it’s time to relax in the early evening.
“In our house we like to have something called CCC at five o’clock,” says Robert, explaining that ‘CCC’ stands for cookies, cocktails and a cigar.
The dogs get the cookies, and Robert enjoys a cocktail and a cigar.
Robert always thinks of his wife during CCC because she always enjoyed a cocktail with him and the dogs. He thinks of the Rainbow Bridge and how his wife, upon her passing, met up with their previous dog Maggie. He pictures them together, happy in the afterlife. The Vietnam veteran always buries his companions in the yard because it is the place in which they lived and played; it was and will be always their home.
Now the yard is the place where Baxter enjoys his new life, next to the woods in a largely fenced area.
Robert was alone for some time after his wife died, and it is through his adopted dogs that he has found the love, companionship and energy to keep living.
“You’re missing something if you don’t have a pet,” he shares, “especially when you are living by yourself. Everyone ought to have a pet.”
If they could tell us in words, it is likely that Baxter, Blue, Maggie and all the other dogs that Robert has saved would agree; a house is not a home without a pet. And to them, the Vietnam veteran is not just their caretaker and family member; he is their hero.