I have long held the belief that you should do what you can to make things better. For someone else, or for the world around you, the smallest of things can make a huge difference. Sometimes it’s donating money, sometimes it’s going door-to-door for a cause you believe in, and sometimes it’s something as simple as buying the person behind you in the drive-thru their morning coffee. It doesn’t take a lot, and it can make even your day that much brighter.
For us, we’re a military family. My husband retired after almost 26 years. I was medically discharged after seven. We have friends all over the U.S. that have served (or are still serving) their country, and we are both very proud of that fact. I also had a cousin that served, grandparents – it’s not what you’d call a family tradition, really, but we do our part.
One day at work, I was on my lunch break in the food court area (I work at the airport), reading my book, when I looked up and realized I was *surrounded* by dogs. I mean, it’s not uncommon to see a dog or two come through the airport – lots of people travel with their pets. But I had literally at least 7 dogs sitting in positions all around me, and THAT’S unheard of. At least, it was for me at that time. Now, we love animals in our house. My husband told me when we got married that we would never have cats – we bargained, and we currently have three, plus one that decided he’d rather be outdoors. 😉 We’ve always had a dog or two, and if we lived out more in the country, we’d have chickens and such as well. So I watched these dogs in the food court, wondering what was going on. Before too long, I noticed one woman – long, blonde hair and *super* efficient – who seemed to be in charge, so I watched her. When I noticed she had something written on her shirt, I googled it quickly and came up with a group called Northwest Battle Buddies. By this time, my lunch was about over, so I bookmarked the site and went back to work.
We had talked about being fosters before. In fact, 2 of our cats are foster-failures, as was one of our prior dogs. But fostering for the organizations always seemed out of our reach – SO MUCH TRAINING INVOLVED. My husband travels for work, I have two kids at home (one of whom is a competitive gymnast, so *that’s* like having at least 2 kids), and the time factor just is not there. But that never took away the nagging feeling that I should be doing *something* to make a difference – I just hadn’t figured out what that something was.
When I got home that night, I spent some time researching the group (NWBB from here on out), and was super excited by what I read. Reasonably local to us (hence training at the airport), and their mission is to train service dogs for veterans with PTSD. As a veteran with that very health issue (though not to the degree of many), that touched my heart. As I read further, I got more excited, until I read that they were looking for foster families. Well…I hesitated. But as I read further, I realized – the foster families don’t train the dogs. They love them, they take care of them, they give them a puppyhood with new experiences – but the training is done by that amazing woman I had seen at the airport. Even MORE impressive is the *amount* of training she gives the dogs – it’s among the highest of all programs. AND THE DOGS ARE PROVIDED FREE OF CHARGE TO THE VETERANS. Read that line again, while realizing that service dogs can (and often do) cost thousands of dollars, making it next to impossible for far too many people.
By now, you’ve heard that sad and sobering statistic that approximately 22 veterans take their lives PER DAY. That’s close to an entire school classroom of children, gone. And in many cases, it is absolutely preventable. There is much that needs to be done in this country to truly work on this problem, but I defy ANYONE to say that these people are expendable and that 22 veterans a day is something we just have to live with.
And so, I talked to my husband. I am not ashamed to say that I pushed. I felt so very, very strongly that at last – I had found something to do that could help me give back in a way that fit our family. He agreed (Mmm…he may not have felt he had much choice… 😉 ), and so I put in an application. I *may* have put in the application before he fully agreed, but I will neither confirm nor deny that possibility.
It didn’t take terribly long before we heard back, and I spoke with Dorothy – the puppy coordinator. She’s a rock star too, and she went through the rules and expectations (which I had already read online because I didn’t want to apply and then back out), asked for some information and photos about our house and yard. This woman, guys – she’s a FONT of knowledge. Not even kidding. And from there – it wasn’t long until we came home with this little nugget:
Nitro was a doll, and we adored him. Unfortunately, at one of his checkups, they noticed what they call “fear behaviors”, so we kept a closer eye on him. It wasn’t long before he started showing them in more situations, so the decision was made to wash him from the program. On the plus side, he now has a VERY happy life with a former teammate of my daughter’s. ❤
It wasn’t long after that we ended up with Addie, who is a typical lab. She’s stubborn, smart, and FULL of energy. She’s also just a very good girl, and as she’s gotten older, I think she’s going to make a wonderful service dog. NOTHING phases that girl. After we had Addie for a while, we also ended up with this little love:
Yes, she’s just as sweet and adorable as she looks. She’s a lover, this one – wants to be with her people ALL THE TIME, PLEASE AND THANK YOU. She’s also the only dog we’ve ever had that has figured out how to get through the dog gate in the house by herself if it’s not latched, so…there’s that. With Addie and Nyx together, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of play, or something like this:
People ask often if it’s going to be hard to give them up. Absolutely!! They’re great dogs, and they’re part of the family! But NWBB posts on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NorthwestBattleBuddies/) when dogs are paired with their handlers, and guys…I cannot express to you what it means – how it FEELS – to see the looks in these veterans’ eyes when they get their dogs. These dogs will be their lifelines. And in so many cases, these dogs are literally giving these veterans the ability to function outside of the house again. There simply are no words for what these Battle Buddies mean to them. And to be a part of that? Even a small part, by giving these dogs a home and love until they’re ready for training? It’s a fabulous feeling. For me, even more so, since a friend of the family that I love dearly has a service dog. And it wasn’t until after we started fostering that I realized Rimfire is also a NWBB dog – and Phil still does a lot to help incoming classes learn and feel comfortable with their training. Knowing how important Rimfire is to Phil – and that it all starts with fostering – gives a new purpose to what we’re doing.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to at least check out Northwest Battle Buddies’ website (https://www.northwestbattlebuddies.org/). Though, as I said above – it’s about doing what we can. If you can’t foster, donate. If you can’t donate, spread the word. Like their Facebook page and share their posts – maybe someone you know will feel that call. 22 servicemembers a day is 22 too many. And the more people who get involved, the bigger the program can grow, and the more veterans will be able to be paired with their own Battle Buddy – allowing them to have the life that they absolutely deserve. It starts small, we do what we can – but it ABSOLUTELY starts with us.