Back in 2011, one week before my husband was to leave on his third deployment, our 6-year old German Shepherd died suddenly from the rupturing of tumors we didn’t’ know he had. The week that followed was one of grieving and sadness for the whole family. Even my daughter, then three, expressed how much she missed her doggy in her own little way. Neither of the kids had ever known life without having a pet as part of the family.
My husband and I got Bushmill just two weeks after we got married. He was our first baby and the one we did everything for in our first few years of marriage. Once the kids came along, the poor guy fell third in line for getting attention and there were many days when we were unable to give him the play time he needed. Regretfully, I sometimes found myself thinking of him as just another chore on my list and mumbled in frustration when I needed to do something for him. Despite my foolish ways, he continued to show his love and trust in me.
In the first few days after my husband deployed, I realized how much Bushmill had really meant to me. He wasn’t just our first baby. He wasn’t just a pet. He wasn’t just another member of the family I needed to care for. He was my comfort. He was my sense of security when my husband was away. He was the one who kept me company on so many lonely nights, even if he was simply lying in the corner.
It was a few weeks into the deployment before I stopped hearing him get up and follow me down the hallway as I looked for an evening snack. It was even longer before I finally got used to the emptiness of the room without him lying in his corner. To this day, almost two years later, I wish he were here with me when a suspicious solicitor knocks on the door trying to sell me something. When his hair stood up and his bark sounded, there is no one who would’ve even considered messing with this household!
Every family with a dog knows that their furry friend is just as much a part of the family as anyone else. The relationship a pet brings to a military family is extra special. Through all the deployments, through all the tears, through all the bittersweet endings and exciting beginnings, our dogs stand strong by our sides. They wait patiently with us as we count the days when our spouses will return home. They happily go along when it’s time to move because they simply want to be with us. Though they may not be able to talk, they somehow find a way to let us know that everything will be okay.
We have talked about getting another dog to complete our military family, but I am not quite there yet. The time will come, though, when I will finally be ready to welcome the next member of our family into our home. And when that happens I know that we will form a bond with our new friend that is just as strong as we had with our old friend. That’s what we do as military families—we hold strong to those around us and hold each other up. Dogs are no different. I have yet to meet a dog who wouldn’t give its unconditional love, support, and trust for the family who loves it.