After retiring from the Army, Steve was dealing with loneliness and the aftereffects of multiple combat deployments. A blind and deaf dog who spent nearly 200 days in Texas shelters before finding his forever home is the veteran’s new best friend.
THE BONDS OF BROTHERHOOD
Steve was born and raised in Wisconsin and joined the Army National Guard in 1985. He knew from an early age that he wanted to serve his country as the son of a Korean War veteran.
“I believe it has always been my calling.” I used to play Army all the time when I was a kid. He says, “It was something I’d always wanted to do.”
Guardsmen usually work in civilian jobs or go to school while continuing their military training part-time. While many people value the balance of military and civilian life, Steve found it to be unfulfilling.
“I just wasn’t getting what I expected out of it.” I was looking for something more.”
Steve joined the military full-time in 1997. He enlisted in the Army and served as a heavy anti-armor infantryman for ten years. Assaulting and destroying enemy tanks, armored vehicles, emplacements, and weapons is the job of soldiers in this military occupational specialty (MOS).
Steve was proud of his work and the bonds he had formed with his brothers in arms.
“With that job, I traveled all over the world, and there’s nothing like the brotherhood of an infantry squad,” he says. “You’re always on the lookout for one another.”
INVISIBLE WOUNDS OF WAR
An infantryman’s job entails a high level of risk, particularly during times of conflict. In 2003, Steve was assigned to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in the Middle East. An improvised explosive device (IED) blast injured him while he was there.
The combat veteran is still dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (PTSD). These unseen war wounds can have a long-term impact on one’s memory, mood, and ability to concentrate. Headaches, vision, and hearing problems are all possible symptoms.
It was, ironically, a non-service-related injury that would ultimately change the soldier’s career path.
After a 15-month deployment in Iraq, Steve was assigned to Germany. When he wasn’t at work, he liked to ride his mountain bike around the country. On one particularly perilous outing, he crashed and was thrown from his bike, severely injuring his wrist.
Steve was unable to perform his infantry duties due to his injury. His MOS was changed to military intelligence after he completed the reclassification process (MI).
The soldier didn’t want to leave his infantry squad, but he didn’t have a choice. To his surprise, the job transition turned out to be more enjoyable than he had anticipated.
“The time I spent in the infantry really helped me advance in my military intelligence career,” he says. “It helped me understand what intelligence ground commanders wanted and needed.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SONS
After transferring to the intelligence field, Steve continued to serve on overseas operations. He would go on to serve in two more combat missions. But it was a one-of-a-kind peacekeeping mission that he recalls fondly.
“I worked with the multinational force and observers on the Sinai Peninsula. He recalls, “We were there to enforce the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.” “We double-checked that neither country had broken any treaties.”
Steve’s MI career was thriving, and his personal life was as well. The soldier married and eventually decided to start a family with his wife. The couple finished the necessary paperwork and training to become licensed foster parents in 2011.
Steve was deployed to the Middle East for six months not long after. The soon-to-be parents were paired with a pair of siblings much more quickly than they expected.
“While I was in Afghanistan, my wife received a call. He explains, “She started fostering them, and I didn’t meet them until I got home.”
Nathan and Cole were two and one years old at the time, respectively. Nathan has been blind in his left eye since birth due to Coats’ disease, a rare retinal disorder.
Furthermore, both biological brothers were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (ASD). Children with ASD may not appear to be different from their peers, but they frequently act, communicate, interact, and learn in different ways.
Steve is dealing with the long-term – and often invisible – effects of TBI and PTSD, as well as his sons’ special needs.
Two years later, the boys were officially adopted by the couple. They had no idea that a blind and deaf dog would be joining their special family soon.
A MAN OF HIS WORD
After 13 years in the National Guard and 23 years on active duty, Steve retired in January 2020. Throughout his four-decade career, he traveled all over the world. He eventually made his home in central Texas, about an hour’s drive from his sons and now-ex-wife.
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult for many veterans. Steve yearned for the camaraderie he had with his comrades in arms. And his sons are too far away to see on a daily basis.
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic added to the new retiree’s sense of isolation. It also made it more difficult to find work.
“When I first got out of the military, I was really struggling,” Steve recalls. “I needed someone to hang out with, someone with whom I could do something.”
The veteran began to consider the many ways that having a companion animal can help alleviate loneliness. Steve grew up around animals and adopted a number of cats and dogs during his marriage. He was ready for his own pet.
But, more importantly, Steve wanted to keep a promise he made with Nathan and Cole, who are now 11 and 10 years old.
“I promised the boys I would get a dog someday so they would have something to look forward to when they came to see me.”
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Steve began his search for a four-legged companion on the internet before visiting a shelter near his home. While he didn’t find “the one” that day, he did pick up a brochure for Pets for Patriots.
A blind and deaf dog has been in a shelter for 200 days, waiting for a combat veteran to come to his rescue.
The former intelligence analyst looked up our mission and work on the internet. He was blown away by the numerous benefits our program offers to both veterans and shelter pets.
“I think there are a lot of organizations out there that you should be cautious of,” he says, “but I could tell this wasn’t one of them.”
Steve was willing to take his time, despite his disappointment at not being able to find the right dog right away. The retired combat veteran understood how critical it was to find a dog that would get along with his two sons.
“Finding the ideal dog or cat can take a long time. You simply must take your time, as this is not something you should rush into.”
Meanwhile, Steve found another way to keep himself occupied while his search for a furry companion continued: a job.
PAYBACK IS A BLESSING
Steve is currently employed as a contractor, training military intelligence analysts on how to use MI computer systems. He enjoys working with soldiers once more, and the job confirms what he learned years ago.
“It took me a long time to figure out what my passion was,” he says, “but I eventually figured out why I was in the military.” “Taking care of soldiers, training them, and mentoring them is my passion.”
Steve now realizes that his years of guiding others have paid off in unexpected ways.
“The best reward is that even though I’m retired, I still get calls from soldiers seeking advice.” They periodically check on me to see how I’m doing. Some have contacted me to say that I was extremely harsh with them, and that they now realize they needed it and thank me for it.”
Steve was able to establish a new battle rhythm after returning to work. It provided him with much-needed structure and social interaction, as well as reignited his enthusiasm for working with soldiers.
Despite this, the Army veteran returned home alone at the end of the day.
“GEEZ, THIS DOG WOULD FIT RIGHT IN WITH US”
Steve visited local shelter websites on a regular basis until he was stopped in his tracks by a particular photo and profile. He vividly recalls the day because it happened to be Veterans Day.
Ernie was born deaf and nearly blind on a ranch. Fearing that he wouldn’t be able to provide a puppy with such challenges with a safe environment, the rancher surrendered him to a shelter.
“When I read about his special needs, I thought to myself, ‘Geez, this dog would be perfect for us.’ My children have special requirements. I’m deaf and partially blind, and I have special needs. I had a strong desire to meet him.”
The year-old cattle dog mix was in the care of Texas Humane Heroes at the time, having been transferred from another Texas shelter where he had spent months.
Since 2013, Texas Humane Heroes has offered half-price adoptions to veterans in our program at our shelters in Leander and Killeen.
At the shelter, Steve spent time with Ernie. They took walks together and played together. The hunt had come to an end.
A blind and deaf dog has been in a shelter for 200 days, waiting for a combat veteran to come to his rescue.
Ernie spent nearly 200 days homeless – most of his very young life – between Texas Humane Heroes and the previous shelter from which he was transferred, according to the retired combat veteran.
He recalls, “He was very skittish, and it took him some time to warm up.” “But I just had a feeling we’d be a good match.”
BLIND AND DEAF DOG IS THE PERFECT BATTLE BUDDY
While he applied to our program, Steve arranged for the special needs puppy to be fostered. The veteran’s first order of business when they arrived home together was to rename his new companion.
He jokes, “I thought it was only fitting with my military background and the rank I had to have a Private, someone I could boss around.”
In December 2020, Steve and Private were officially adopted. Private had adjusted to his new living quarters by that time, and the two had devised a novel method of communication.
Steve says, “If I need to get his attention, I’ll snap my fingers, and that usually works.” “Or he’ll respond to the vibration if he’s near something I can tap on.”
Private, too, has a clever way of attracting Steve’s attention.
“He enjoys being petted. Right beneath his chin, where his snout meets his neck, is his sweet spot. “He enjoys having his hands rubbed there,” the veteran explains. “If I don’t give him any more petting, he paws at me for more.” ‘How dare you stop?’ he seems to be saying.
“HE’S MY BUDDY”
Private has a number of other endearing traits. He enjoys locating Steve’s shoes and hurling them into the air. He’ll get up in the middle of the night to play. On hikes, he is adept at navigating downed trees and logs. After that, there’s the door.
“For a dog with limited vision, he enjoys looking out the door,” Steve says.
Private, on the other hand, appears to prefer riding in the car. So much so that Steve has to walk on Private’s right side every time they leave the house to keep him from running straight for the car.
He says, “He’s obsessed with riding in the car with me.” “He’s always itching to hop in the car and go for a drive.”
Steve enjoys his battle buddy’s eccentricities and would not change a thing about him. The fact that Private is blind and deaf only adds to his perfection.
He says, “Private is my companion.” “He’s one of my pals.”
“…LIKE A ROCKSTAR”
Nathan and Cole were gradually introduced to Private by Steve. The timid dog took some time to warm up, but the trio gets along swimmingly.
“They are aware that he, like them, has special needs. In that way, they have a special bond,” he says. “They know where to pet him and when not to rush him. They get along well with him, and he gets along well with them.”
With his sons and Private, the Army veteran returned to Texas Humane Heroes recently. They went shopping for pet supplies and toys to donate to the shelter beforehand. Everyone, including their blind and deaf dog, had a good time.
“Private is a rockstar over there.” When he was there, the staff adored him, and they were ecstatic to see him again,” Steve says. “Everyone snapped photos of him and texted them to their friends who weren’t working that day.” Because of the attention Private was receiving, the boys thought they were in the company of a real rockstar.”
Private is more than a rockstar to Steve; he considers the special needs dog to be his rock. The veteran, who was once lonely, now enjoys the unique camaraderie that only a shelter dog can provide.
“It’s such a pleasure and comfort to be around him,” says the retiree. “He’s provided me with the companionship I’ve been missing.”
A NATURAL WAY TO STRESS LESS
Steve spent so much of his life serving our country. He served in multiple combat tours and is still dealing with the effects of TBI and PTSD. But his greatest achievement is being a loving father to two young boys, one of whom has a very special canine sibling thanks to him.
Steve’s decision to adopt a blind and deaf dog seems appropriate. Choosing a pet with lifelong challenges requires a person with exceptional compassion, patience, and a loving heart. Private is well aware of this.
He describes him as a “little attention seeker.”
Other lonely veterans should consider adopting a pet, according to Steve. If adoption is not an option, simply volunteering at a shelter has numerous advantages.
“Pay a visit to the dogs or cats at a shelter.” “I would never get a dog that wasn’t a shelter dog,” he says, adding, “It’s a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, and you leave there feeling happy.”
When other veterans are ready to adopt, the retired combat veteran suggests they apply to Pets for Patriots.
“It’s such a warm and welcoming organization that truly has the best interests of veterans and shelter animals at heart.”