Throughout history, dogs have been used in combat, in many different roles from logistics to mascots. These dogs not only served as valuable combat assets in the war effort, but also as comforters to their handlers during wartime. In more recent history, “man’s best friends” have expanded their role in helping veterans after they return from war. In week three of our “It’s a Pit Bull’s Life” series, you will meet Shadow. This is a story of a rescued pit bull and the bond he has with the military family he serves.
What is Shadow’s rescue story?
“My husband and I were looking for a service dog candidate to train with as my husband, Craig, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (sTBI) while serving in the Army. Visibly he is fine, but it's important to know that not all injuries are visible. sTBI is considered a life-altering injury—you learn to cope but you never recover. As his legal caregiver, it is hard to understand because I don’t have the injury and it is hard to live with someone who has the injury so there was a lot of learning and frustration all around. Craig’s provider suggested that we get a service dog that could assist with his supervision. We adopted Shadow, a 3 year old American Pit Bull Terrier, from the animal shelter in 2014 and he is training to assist my husband with his severe migraines, emotional and equilibrium. At first I was reluctant to pick Shadow out of the many dogs we were ‘testing’ at the shelter, knowing well the prejudice a breed like his come with, but he and Craig just clicked right off the bat. I welcomed him with an open heart; everyone deserves a second chance, just like Craig's second chance on life. Our trainer did an aggression test prior to starting the training and Shadow passed with flying colors. Here we are two years later; Shadow is an integral part of our family.”
What are some of Shadow’s best personality traits?
“Shadow is a sweet boy that is trained, well-mannered and friendly. He is one of the most loyal beings I know. He is very caring and protective. He needs to be in sight of us—if one of us is upstairs while the other one is downstairs, he will sit on the landing to listen to our activities or he will go up and down the stairs every 20 minutes to make sure we are ok. The clacking of his tags was annoying at first, but it grew on us and became a reminder that a guardian angel is watching over us. Not only does he serve as a support dog for Craig, but he also saves me from the everyday frustrations and stress. The wagging tail, sloppy kisses, floppy ears and blockhead that greet you every time you come home are all that’s needed to make the bad go away. Shadow loves to cuddle and his warmth when he curls up next to you like a donut is home to us. When I watch an intense scene on TV or something scary he plops himself on my lap and in front of my view so all I can do is just give him a big hug and it's all alright. Shadow loves hiking with Craig where both can just be buddies in the great outdoors. He enjoys sunbathing on the grass and fetching the ball. He goes nuts for peanut butter or vanilla ice cream. He has a favorite blankie he loves to sleep on and enjoys playing tug with his rope toy.”
What sort of BSL or prejudice have you encountered because Shadow has been labeled a Pit Bull?
“I wouldn't trade Shadow for any other dog; regardless of how often we encounter “breed prejudice”. By law stores can't deny us access, but patrons of restaurants or stores do stare at us or people jump when they see him. We are very proactive and we never let him off leash unless in our own home or supervised in our fenced backyard. When walking him in the dog park, regardless of whether he is wearing his work vest, people shy away from passing us by moving from the sidewalk to the street. Most often, we get the looks, even if it is another dog that starts barking or charging at Shadow while we are on our leashed walk. It gets disheartening but I just cuddle and love him even more when we are home. It’s hard to be a renter—I always got the “yes, we allow larger dogs; except the aggressive ones” and they would name breeds such as pit bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers and sometimes only pit bull is named. Trying to find renters insurance covering a pit bull is another big undertaking .”
"Living with this life-altering injury in our family, when stress and work could tear most couples apart, the love and peace of that wagging tail and clacking tags is what saved us from what could have been. We believe while at the shelter it wasn't us who rescued Shadow…Shadow chose to rescue us."
The Ian Somerhalder Foundation would like to thank Craig for his service to our country.
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Photo credit: Chelsea Nicole Photography and Danielle Encela