A Vietnam War Air Force veteran shares how her adopted Pomeranian dog has supported her in managing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a new life of sobriety.
The path less traveled
The year was 1974. Robin was an 18-year-old eager to experience something different from her quiet life, where she lived with her family just south of Boston. She grew up with four siblings, and her parents could not afford to send her to college. After seeing an ad for the Air Force she spoke with a recruiter and was encouraged to join.
Robin’s parents were weary of her decision to enlist, telling her that joining the Air Force was “not what women did.” Still, the teenager was resolute.
“Women learned a different role,” she explains, deciding that her role would be different than the molds of her time.
A girl forced to grow
Robin’s early days in the service were especially difficult. While she was in basic training in Texas her father was dying of cancer in Massachusetts. She traveled back and forth from training, and to her father’s deathbed until he passed— an experience that would eventually manifest into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition not limited to those in combat. In addition, during her time in service Robin fell victim to sexual assault; it was not addressed much by the military at the time and, in her view, “remains a tragic problem.”
“[I] went from a little girl to a woman, and not understanding the logistics in between,” she recalls.
Robin served in active duty for two years as an air passenger specialist at McGuire Air Force Base, where she boarded military families and personnel onto aircraft. She still remembers seeing off soldiers who were destined for Vietnam, describing the experience as “heart wrenching.”
Robin saw the end of the Vietnam War and felt an immense amount of guilt for being away from her grieving mother, so she applied to the Palace Chase Program in order to serve closer to home and transition to the Reserves. She would serve at Hanscom Air Force Base until she separated from service in 1980.
Peace with PTSD, sobriety and the past
Life just after service brought many joys and two, in particular: her son and daughter. Yet Robin’s life took an unexpected turn when her emotionally and physically abusive second marriage uncovered her PTSD. She turned to drinking to cope with the stresses of the abuse and the pain unearthed from her past. Although each person is different in how their PTSD expresses itself, substance abuse is common among those dealing with psychological trauma.
“I was loosing the battle very quickly,” she says.
Robin continued to abuse alcohol, moving from place to place, and from job to job, doing just enough to survive each day. Her self-destructive behavior gave way to depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I didn’t want to die, but I did not want to live the way I was living,” she reflects.
The Air Force veteran went through multiple treatment programs and excelled, but was caught in a vicious cycle of relapse. This cycle would continue for years despite Robin’s desire to do better for herself and for her discouraged family. She was left wondering why she could not manage to stay healthy.
In 2011 Robin was admitted to the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital after a relapse and, for the first time, found herself without a plan. The VA sent her to Boston to live at a sober living place for military women, called TRUST House. During her eight months there Robin was able to connect with other women who had experiences similar to her own. Finally, she was able to be honest with herself and others.
“I needed to let myself feel the pain that I never let myself go through,” she says, and through the support she received Robin made a realization. “I was not alone in this. I wasn’t crazy. I was not a bad person.”
Today, Robin proudly shares her sober date– August 28, 2011 – a date she now celebrates with her adopted dog Tucker.
Robin wants others dealing with addiction, traumatic loss, PTSD, or any other personal struggle to understand that they are not alone and that “it’s never too late to change your life.” She welcomes contact from others who would like to talk about her experiences in the hopes that her story will help someone else.
A house becomes a home when Robin embraces sobriety
After leaving TRUST House Robin was able to gain housing through HUD-VASH, a VA program that helps veterans go from homelessness to home. Before she signed her lease, however, she made sure that the agreement would allow her to have a dog. Having grown up with dogs, adopting one was something the Vietnam veteran wanted for her new life of sobriety.
Robin applied to Pets for Patriots after hearing about the program though the Boston VA.
As soon as she was accepted, Robin took the train to Quincy Animal Shelter and instantly fell in love with Tucker, whom she remembers as “a little runt of a dog with dirty, filthy fur.” The once abandoned Pomeranian caught Robin’s attention with his bark.
“I was doing the same thing,” she stresses, “I was barking, looking for help.”
Though Robin could not take Tucker home the day she met him, she made sure to tell him not to leave with anyone else. He kept his promise and they have been inseparable ever since.
The little things are the big things
Having recently celebrated her fifth year of sobriety Robin is in awe of her new life with Tucker. Life is simple and fulfilling. One of their favorite activities is going out for ice cream together. He gets a little dish of vanilla, and the two of them sit on a bench to enjoy their treat and each other’s company. But for Robin every moment with Tucker is a treat – whether taking car rides, wandering through the woods, curling up on the couch, or giving him a bath.
“There’s always some time of the day that’s special with him,” she says, “and I don’t always know what it’s going to be.”
When Robin reflects on what she loves most about Tucker she has a singular answer: “Everything.” The now eight year-old dog’s intuitiveness continues to impress her.
“He knows when I don’t feel right and when to come sit with me,” she says, “and when to stay away.”
Robin knows that she would be sober without Tucker, but the support he offers through the good times and the bad is unlike any other. Of his many gifts, she is most appreciative of his unconditional love and acceptance.
“[Having] someone who knows you from now, as day one. Not from the addiction times,” is a blessing she did not expect to receive.
Robin is now completely happy with her family back in her life, a home to call her own, a job at Wegmans, and a canine companion with whom to enjoy life.
“We don’t have a lot,” she says, adding, “We don’t need a lot. We have our friends and we have our family and we have each other.”
All you need is love, sobriety…and some winter booties
The Air Force veteran becomes animated when discussing all of the ways Tucker has transformed her, and thanks Pets for Patriots for bringing the twelve-and-a-half pound ball of fluff into her life.
“Knowing that other people are working to help is important.”
In addition to having received a generous adoption fee discount, Robin has great praise for the quality, affordable care that Tucker receives at Quarry Hills Animal Hospital, where she knows she can call anytime. Since 2011, the practice extends a 15% discount to veterans in our program. And while she recognizes that pet guardianship is not for everyone, Robin believes that companion pet adoption is for anyone who feels that there is something missing from their life.
These days Robin and Tucker are not missing much, except for maybe a pair of extra small booties for Tucker. When it comes to snow booties for her pint-sized pup Robin has “tried them all,” but finds that they are too big for his tiny paws. With all of the challenges Robin has overcome in life, this one pales in comparison.
For the first time in a long time, Robin feels optimistic thinking about the future. She has goals for herself and Tucker, including “living and being happy.”
While these words are simple on the surface they have immeasurable depth. Robin’s journey is one of impeccable fortitude, and now she has Tucker to share this journey. She describes their relationship in just six words: “We both know we are loved.”