Veterans love their dogs. Whether you’re a former military handler, a person that relies on your dog for emotional support, an adventurer in need of a wingman, or just the sort of person that likes company while you binge Netflix series — a dog offers a kind of companionship that feels familiar for military personnel: loyal, protective, fun, and occasionally, a big pain in the ass.
Perhaps that’s why it’s no surprise to see a burly, tatted up veteran get all mushy with his German Shepard in between concise commands and precision maneuvers that might make you think the dog is on the job. Many vets treat their dogs as teammates: with a combination of affection and expectation that denotes a peer like respect. What looks at first glance like a man and his dog, soon starts to seem like a dog and his man. They work together, they converse, they meet challenges as a team and when all is said and done, they’ve got each other to celebrate with.
That’s not the relationship I have with my dog.
While other vets practice clearing their house with their dogs, my chihuahua-dachshund and I watch old episodes of the X-Files. While other vets cruise through grocery stores and the like with their well behaved pups, I make sure everything has been picked up off the floor before I go to bed because my dog LOVES to pee on plastic for some strange reason.
While other vets and their dogs defend their homes as a team, when my family had a break in eight years ago, I found our family pooches (our Shih Tzu has since passed away) hiding under the blankets in the bedroom when I returned from chasing the culprit down the street.
My dog can’t be trusted around stranger’s kids because he’s a 12 year old chihuahua that bites at the wind blowing when he’s nervous. He can’t be let loose to run around the yard without supervision or he’ll head straight to my neighbor’s house to scarf down the poor guy’s cat’s food. He can’t be reasoned with, he shrugs off training, he smells bad right after a bath and his old hips don’t work like they used to, so he needs to be picked up from time to time.
Oh, but when you pick him up, he growls, because he hates being picked up.
He’s smaller than my cat, but with more attitude than all three humans in my house combined. If I’m being totally honest… my dog is a dick. And that’s why we’re such good friends. He treats my daughter like she’s a fragile piece of porcelain, and despite his stature, he’ll go after my old barn cat if he thinks she’s getting a little too close to dad’s baby girl. He knows where my spot is on the couch, and he sets up shop right next to it when I wrap up work for the day, ready to kick off another rowdy evening of research and reruns (the sexy life of a writer).
I don’t have the knack for dog training that lots of folks seem to have, and my little pooch doesn’t have much interest in being trained anyway. Our friendship isn’t based on the deep emotional attachment you forge with a teammate… it’s based on the warm feeling you get from a wasted Sunday afternoon under too many blankets, watching a movie you’ve already seen a dozen times. He’s like the friends I had in high school, back when just “hanging out” was what we considered having plans.
I know I look silly — a six foot, 250 pound Marine walking around with a ten pound mutt that growls at me when I help him over logs on the trail — but I don’t care. He’s my friend. I know other vets with better behaved dogs, probably because they were better owners and caretakers during their companion’s formative years… but all I’ve ever asked of Frank, since the day we adopted him, was a drinking buddy — and he’s never let me down.
Dogs, like friends, come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Some you can count on in a fight, some you can talk to about your feelings, and some are just there for you when all you really need is a friendly face and a bit of company. Frank isn’t like most dogs, and I guess I’m not like most vets… but he’s never judged me for it, and the least I can do is return the favor.
Cheers to you guys with your well behaved dogs — I respect you both, but Frank and I? We’ll be drinking cheap beer on my back porch tonight, being the sort of friends we’ve always been. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Images courtesy of the author