Back when I was going through a lot with the military, walking on a cane, and living in the barracks at Brooke Army Medical Center, unsure of my future and angry at my present, I did one of the most selfish, spur of the moment, and idiotic things I could have done: I got a Great Dane puppy. Even when I got transferred up to Walter Reed and was no longer living in the barracks, everyone told me that I should give her up. Hell, my ex-wife even gave me an ultimatum a couple of years later, “It’s the dog or me.” My Great Dane is sleeping on her own bed in my second bedroom while I write this article, my ex-wife, who knows. Keeping my Great Dane, Natalia, turned out to be one of the best decisions that as a veteran I ever made and here’s why.
1) Days can be shitty, but not for your dog
Look, transitioning out of the military (or even being in the military), will lead to a bunch of shitty days. Let’s face it, the military is one of the few organizations in which being a member of the military is ingrained in you. Where even at social BBQs you will refer to those senior to you and to those whom you do not consider friends, by their rank and last name. But the only shitty part of the day for your dog is when you aren’t around. There’s nothing as uplifting as having a happy dog, wagging its tail, right at your front door when you come in.
2) Every dog is a wingman
There are only two options when getting out of the military: You either head back home where life has moved on since you left, or you head to a new place to start your life. Either way, you’ll probably want to make some new friends. So let’s face it, there’s no better wingman (or wingwoman) than a great dog. All you have to do is walk down a street and your dog will do all the work, all you need to do is follow up with small talk and seal the deal.
3) Part bodyguard, part therapist
Combat and the emotions that it elicits are something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Sure they might dull over time, but they’re there. Coming back into civilian life is difficult enough without having to worry about jail time, because you felt threatened and defended yourself. Not only will having a living thing that you are responsible for make you think before acting irrationally, it’s also likely that you wont be put into any fight or fight harder situations with a dog by your side. Plus I’m a huge believer in a dog’s ability to read humans. If my dog is on alert, I’m on alert. If my dog is relaxed around a person, I can be relaxed around that person.
4) They don’t understand every word, but they understand how you feel
Does my Great Dane understand what bills are or exactly why I am concerned that I wont be able to make enough money when getting out of the military? Probably not. But she does understand how I feel, sometimes even before I know what I’m feeling. It’s much easier to face the uncertainty of the future and your emotions with a faithful friend by your side.
5) Physical Trainer
If you’re like me, getting up at 0530 to do physical training isn’t happening anymore. I enjoy my sleep too much. However there’s nothing like a Great Dane waking you up at 0630 to tell you that it’s either time to go outside or shit on your floor. So instead of being lazy because you don’t have to go to formation to workout, having a dog means that you are much more likely to meet the federal criteria for regular or moderate exercise, than if you didn’t have a dog.
Not everybody knows where to start when finding a dog. Remember this, every dog has the ability to be a great pet and friend. There are some great groups out there and great information on dogs. Here are just a couple of resources to get your started:
You don't have to have PTSD to have dreams like this, you just have to be a combat vet.