I have written several pieces for Home Fires these last couple of years. I have talked about my journey back from Iraq and my road to recovery. I have also opened up and let you into the side of my life that is haunted by demons. I have enjoyed writing and it has allowed me to face some of the things that have inhibited my growth as a person. In this post, I would like to talk about something not quite so serious, but very close to my heart: my guide dog, Brittani.
Many of y’all have read about Brittani in previous posts. She is very important to me and my family. Brittani is more than just my eyes. It is true that she helps me get around and does one heck of a job of it, but she is also the family dog and one of my best allies in my struggles.
I got Brittani in the spring of 2007 from Southeastern Guide Dogs in
Palmetto. Fla., as part of their Paws For Patriots program. It is a program that
provides guide dogs for veterans who have become visually impaired serving in
Afghanistan or Iraq. The program has been so successful that they have opened it
up to other veterans who are in need of a guide dog. We have even placed therapy
dogs at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and the National Naval Medical
Center in Bethesda, Md.
Courtesy of the Southeastern Guide Dogs
Brittani and I have been all around the country together. In addition to all of the traveling, she assists me at school. We have attended classes at Northern Virginia Community College, Georgetown University (by far the most challenging) and the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg. We have been walking up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, strolling through the gaming floor of Ceasar’s Palace, down the halls of Congress, Yankee Stadium and many points in between. Unfortunately, many of these travels have not been with my wife and son. But when I travel by myself I am never truly alone. Brittani is always by my side.
I have a very supportive family and we always include Brittani in this family. When I am alone on my daily tasks of going to school, navigating the city or even in a hotel room far away from home, Brittani is there to support me. She knows how I feel at all times. If I am feeling down she comes up to me and curls up at my feet to keep me company. Often she’ll bring me a toy and want to play. It is very hard to feel sad when you are playing with a puppy. She gets so excited that it melts my sorrows away. She stands by me no matter what the circumstances. Having Brittani is like having a counselor right there next to me all the time.”
When I first met my wife, Leslie, she told me that she had a son. Caleb was 10 years old at the time. He had always wanted a dog but had never had one. He and Leslie lived in apartments that would not allow dogs. Leslie bought him a cat (Sherlock) but it was not the same. Brittani, with her rock star status of a guide dog, could go to the apartment and stay without a worry. She is allowed to go anywhere that I go. Caleb and Brittani became good friends very quickly. He would take her for walks down to the tennis courts to play ball. He would also play with her in the apartment and they would sit together and watch television. It was wonderful — Caleb wanted a dog and Brittani was our loophole in the lease.
Leslie and Brittani also share a bond. Brittani loves Leslie very much. She is always trying to get Leslie to play with her. She also knows that if she looks at Leslie with her sad puppy face there is a better chance of getting what she wants. I am just as guilty of giving in, maybe more.
Brittani also knows how to work both me and Leslie. If she wants something — to play or to go for a walk — and I am not paying attention to her, she will go get Leslie. Leslie will look at me and say, “I think that Brittani wants something.” She usually gets what she wants.
Brittani also enjoys watching the Bravo channel and Lifetime movies with Leslie. I do not know if she does this for Leslie or if she knows that I am not a fan of that stuff — I prefer “Law and Order” and NCIS.” (Yes, I do watch television. Ironically, I even have a high-definition TV in the bedroom. ) Either way it works out. Leslie will jokingly say to Brittani, “Us blondes have got to stick together!” and Brittani will shake her head in confirmation.
Brittani has not only impacted the life of Leslie, Caleb and me — she has affected the entire family. My mom, Tracey and my step dad, Bob have raised two guide dogs. They wanted to get involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs when they saw the difference that Brittani made in my life. They started with Ted, an amazing yellow lab. Ted is a special dog in our family. I donated money to the school and was able to name a dog. Ted’s full name is Col. Theodore J. Willis, U.S.M.C. I named Ted after my grandfather. He was a man that meant a lot to me and taught me many things about manhood. Ted became a career change dog. He has received all of the guide dog training but has a higher calling. He travels with my mom and dad and helps raise funds for the Paws For Patriots program. They also raised Bart. Bart is also a yellow lab who did not receive all of the guide dog training but was selected as a breeder dog. The school decided that Bart is so good that he should do his part to make guide dogs for many different blind people in the future.
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Brittani has been the best battle buddy a man could have. She sticks with me when times are good and even closer when the times are bad. Leslie, Caleb and I could not imagine our lives without Brittani. Brittani has given me the freedom to regain my independence. We know that she is a member of the family and always will be.
Such adventure and such responsibilities are truer because they originate not by decree, but from our humanity — from nature or nature’s God, as it were. More is required to be successful and more is awarded when we are.
After about a year of waiting, I hereby tendered my unqualified resignation.