We were on our way home from the Equine Welfare Alliance Convention in Las Vegas, NV. We stopped to see Matt's family in Southern California on the way home. Matt's sister Anne and our brother-in-law Ernie train dogs and run them for the LA County Sheriff. They run cadaver dogs, drug dogs and search and rescue and there was a training session that night. I went to watch and learn and there was a beautiful big red dobie there. I asked what his story was as the woman who had him seemed worried and had a big bandage on her arm.
Anne, Matt's sister, told me he was a military war veteran and the lady could not keep him. His handler had been killed in action. He had been with three other families and needed a new home. I called Matt and within 5 minutes we had a new rescue. Who could pass that up? A huge doberbman with PTSD who had already failed with 3 families. Sounded just perfect to me. I looked into his eyes and could see the heartbreak, confusion and defeat. There was no way I was leaving without this dog.
We piled into the car with our son Travis, Soldier Scooby and drove home. Thus began our love affair with this soldier. We took him everywhere. He did not do well when he was alone, and my heart was breaking for him. He was dejected, sad and always searching. We were in Lowe's one day and a woman walked by with a large item in her hand. Soldier growled at her. We apologized immediately and explained who he was and about his PTSD. Within moments she had laid down her packages and was wrapped around Soldier with tears streaming down her face. "My son was a soldier. He was killed in Afghanistan." This would be the first of many tearful hugs and tiny amounts of healing that Soldier would provide.
As time went on, he began to stop "looking". The only information we had about him was that his handler was Killed in Action, he came back through Camp Pendleton, he had been through 3 families who were unable to properly handle him and his PTSD, and that he never stopped chewing on his leg. We took him to the vet and he said that we were lucky, as many of them will never stop looking and are not easily rehabbed and are often not safe. Many of the military dogs cannot live with "normal" folks and cannot find homes where not only will the family be safe, but the dog also. Soldier's leg was his pacifier and we would get it nearly healed up and he would chew again.
One of his favorite things to do was be in the front yard. His chest would puff up and he would cross his front legs and he was the king. He was most happy during those times, although he never ever wanted to be away from Matt and myself. Soldier had issues with men, although he seemed to LOVE men in uniform. We were in the Nevada Day Parade with him and afterward went to the traveling Vietnam Wall with him. It was a very emotional experience and although he seemed to be searching, he was calm and interacted with so many of our military. Another mom sobbed into his neck as she told us what the war had done to her son. He was in prison in New York, and simply could not handle the horrors he had experienced and the friends he had lost and he had gotten into some trouble. She said she had his best friend's combat gear in her garage and her son could not bear for her to part with it. It had the blood of his beloved best friend on it when he was killed and that was the last time he saw his friend. While we were visiting, one of the Vietnam Veterans wanted to buy Soldier lunch, so he bought him a hamburger. We saw the same gentleman when Soldier was honored in the parade in Virginia City and he was so proud as he reminded me he was the one who had bought Soldier his dinner.
Soldier would never come when he was loose. If you called him he would run around in circles, almost as if he was taught "NOT" to come. Within time, he would come to me, but as long as we had him if Matt was standing, Soldier would not come to him. But if Matt sat down, Soldier might come over. Many times Matt would have to call me and I would have to bring Soldier in or call him to us. Soldier would spend hours just sitting with Matt, and he loved to lay his head on his knee. But Soldier although LOVED Matt and I with a passion that was unbelievable, there was always a part of his heart that belonged to his fallen handler. You could feel it, and when we were at the Memorial Wall you could feel his presence. (I just got chills again writing this).
Matt was gone quite a bit for several of the years that Soldier was with us. I have to say that although I am sure Soldier missed him, we would have a blast. He always had a special blanket and he would sleep on top of that on my bed. Matt could never get him to get on the bed, and this was one of the weird behaviors that he came with. If Matt put him on the bed he would jump right down. There were days he would come into a room, and other days when he would not step foot in that same room, for the first several years.
Soldier loved to travel with us, and went everywhere. Since I qualify for an assistance dog, I registered Soldier as mine. He would actually pull my wheel chair and he was great at "pulling me" when I was having trouble walking. One of my favorite times was when we went to Lumberjack's in Redding. I tried to not take him into a restaurant unless it was absolutely necessary, as I don't enjoy seeing dogs in them, but this was one of those days. We were seated in the back in a corner and a large group of folks came in. After living in the Bay Area, we were pretty familiar with some of the gangs, and this group certainly reminded me of the folks back home. The biggest guy came swaggering in looking all bad and appeared to be trying to intimidate folks. I had to laugh because the moment he saw Soldier he shrunk and tried to disappear. They were seated on the back wall next to us and he quickly grabbed an extra chair and placed it between him and Soldier. I think he whispered the rest of the meal. It was quite entertaining.
Another time we were in Smith's in Dayton. A very nice young (20ish) man looked up at the two of us. "Ma'am?" he said. I started laughing and told him he was welcome to check out Soldier's tag, which happened to be on his collar under his neck. He got a big nervous smile on his face and called over to another man, "Hey Shaun - do you want to check out his tag?". The guy shook his head, and we all laughed and we went on with our shopping.
Two of the other most important folks in Soldier Scooby's life were Mom 2 & Dad 2. Shirley and Bruce Allen were his second parents and he loved them dearly. We would stay with them while we were doing our rescue work and he played with their dogs. We were blessed to be able to take Soldier to say good bye to his 2nd mom and dad. We had absolutely no idea that his life would end so quickly, but he was definitely having some issues. He actually started to crash while we were in NV and as usual, our beloved Doc Peck came through while we were there. We were able to give him some meds that helped. So we had one last weekend with everyone together. This weekend would be different in the fact that he wanted nothing to do with his canine friends, but seemed to soak up the love showered on him by all of us as if he knew it was the last time.
For so many years Military dogs were considered "equipment" and not even brought home. They gave their lives without being given a choice, to save this country, and were given no respect by the government. PTL that nowadays there are steps being taken to bring them home. Unfortunately they do come home with PTSD, much like our beloved 2 legged soldiers. But they cannot talk about what happened. We cannot explain to him why after his handler had fallen to his death, Soldier was most likely dragged away from his body. We could not explain to him why he felt the sorrow and pain and what was happening. I can't even imagine how much stress he went through. If he even glimpsed a piece of foil he would go nuts. Certain things would set him off and we could not explain to him that he was safe, loved and would not have to ever go through that again. These animals are immensely intelligent and loyal and they love with a passion we humans could only wish for. They will give their lives and what they are put through can be horrific, yet they always do what they are asked no matter what.
It was such an honor to have Soldier Scooby with us. I only pray that his Handler's mom somehow knew, even if it was just in her heart, that her son's loyal and faithful dog was being taken care of. When we were at the vet waiting to release him from his pain, he was laying on the back seat of the truck. Matt and I stayed out there with him, trying desperately to love him enough for the next hundred years. As I looked into those golden brown eyes I could see a beautiful blonde young man. He was standing still in full salute, waiting for his beloved friend and partner to come home. We sat at the vet's for a long time while our hearts slowly shattered in to a million tiny pieces. We were being squeezed in and so we had lots of time to spend while we were waiting. Doc came out and gave him the shot to make him relax. Matt and I took turns holding him, tears streaming down our cheeks while the pain ripped through us, tearing us apart. Soldier Scooby was a special dog, and he had been such a gift. When Doc finally gave him the injection that would release him from this world, Soldier would not leave. He just continued to breathe quietly and calmly, as if to say I am not ready yet. Doc went back in and came out with another dose. By this time we had told him it was ok and that his soldier was waiting for him. Soldier Scooby slipped peacefully into the arms of his waiting soldier. As we were driving home, Matt told me that he had a vision. He told me that he saw a young soldier standing at full salute waiting. As the chills raked up and down us we realized we had both seen the same thing. As I pulled into our driveway I could see a young man leaning back against a tree, with a beautiful red doberman laying in his lap.
We at Chilly Pepper - Miracle Mustang wanted to share the story of this amazing soldier with y'all. Our heartfelt thanks and love and prayers go out to all the military and their families, and I also have to include the police and fire departments as they are all willing to risk their lives for us each day. My son is in the military and it breaks my heart to think of the phone call that Soldier Scooby's handler's mom got. I can't even imagine.
So folks, please remember to thank our military, honor our flag and God and be kind to others.