Grief-stricken Vietnam Veteran and Special Needs Dog Help Each Other Heal

Danny and his dog Buddy
Danny and Buddy

Danny was adamant that he did not want another dog after losing his beloved pup, Brady. But that changed when the Vietnam veteran crossed paths with a malnourished, special needs dog who looked like the buddy he just bid goodbye.

Steering his own ship

Conscription in the United States during the Vietnam War was in full swing to draft young men into military service. Danny knew his time to answer the call to arms was coming, so he volunteered to serve.

“It was getting close to being my time to go,” he says, referring to the draft. “I didn’t want to go and lay around in a foxhole.”

In January 1969, Danny enlisted in the Navy as a cook. Because he volunteered he was able to choose the job and branch of service he wanted rather than letting the government decide where he would be placed.

Danny completed basic training in his home state. The teenager from Decatur, Illinois then joined the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in Bremerton, Washington.

The young sailor deployed to Vietnam twice during his four years in the Navy. Danny remembers a recruiter offering him a job as a “fancy chef” if he enlisted for another tour of duty, but he was ready to return to civilian life.

In December 1972 Danny separated from service and began a 33-year career as a truck driver.

“It’s a lonely lifestyle,” he laments. “The only friends you have are other truckers.”

The Navy veteran drove all over the United States before retiring due to health complications. He now tends to the house and yard while his wife is at work.

Although his lifestyle on the road was a lonely one, Danny has had several dogs to keep him company in retirement. As a self-proclaimed dog lover, he would have a house full of dogs if he could.

“If I had the money to take care of them, I’d adopt all the dogs.”

Love and loss

In March 2017, Danny’s then six year-old dog, Brady, became seriously ill. The Rat Terrier-Chihuahua mix had an enlarged pancreas and Danny pleaded with Brady’s veterinarians to do everything they could to save him.

Brady dog

Despite everyone’s best efforts, Brady lost his battle.

“I spent $4,000 and still lost him,” Danny says. “That’s how much I love my dogs.”

The Vietnam veteran was grief-stricken. His “buddy” had been so young and seemed so healthy; it was incomprehensible that he was gone. The silence around the house was crushing and made Danny’s loss even more profound.

People cope with losing a pet in different ways. Some search for a new companion right away. For others like Danny, the prospect of loving and then losing another pet is unbearable.

Danny was firm when his wife suggested that they adopt another dog even though he fully appreciated the benefits a companion pet could provide.

“No, I’m not getting another one,” he recalls telling her.

But a change of seasons brought a change of heart.

“Summer came, and I missed Brady being out there in the yard,” Danny says.

Perhaps it was then the Vietnam veteran felt he had more heart to give.

Special needs dog says ‘take a chance on me’

Danny began searching the websites of local shelters for a canine companion. Initially, he was not able to find a dog who would be a good fit for him – until he saw a picture of a black and white Rat Terrier mix who could have been Brady’s twin.

The Navy veteran felt an instant connection.

This particular dog had just entered the care of the Macon County Animal Control and Care Center, which has been a Pets for Patriots adoption partner since 2013.

Buddy dog

Danny did not know it yet, but the shelter waives pet adoption fees for veterans in our program who adopt program-eligible dogs and cats.

The Vietnam veteran drove to the shelter the next day to meet the then four year-old dog. He had been found as a stray and named Nacho by the shelter staff.

Danny was shocked by the dog’s appearance.

“I thought to myself, ‘Whoa, he’s in rough shape.’ He was so skinny and bony,” he remembers somberly. “You could see his hips and spine, and part of his right ear was torn off.”

Nacho was malnourished and had a noticeably deformed front leg that caused him to walk with a limp. No one knows if he was born like that or if he broke it at some point in his still young life.

Danny was unsure if he was truly ready; his initial instinct was not to adopt the special needs dog.

“I said, ‘no’ to myself. I can’t do this.”

On his way out of the shelter Danny picked up a Pets for Patriots brochure from the lobby.

“I talked to my wife when I got home and she said, ‘You might as well go back and get him, you know you’re going to anyway,’” Danny laughs. “I guess she was right.”

Healing each other

The Navy veteran applied to our companion pet adoption program and within a few days made Nacho’s adoption official. His first order of business was finding a more suitable name for his new friend.

“My wife suggested I name him Buddy since he was going to be my buddy,” the veteran recalls. “I liked it because all of my dogs have had names that start with ‘B,’–Blackie, Blue, and Brady. It’s also what I used to call Brady.”

The next task was for Buddy to start putting on some weight. He was only 10 pounds when Danny adopted him in July 2017, about half what a dog his age and breed should weigh.

Buddy dog

The former Navy cook put his culinary expertise to work. Danny’s cooking accomplished the task, but also left Buddy with a more sophisticated palate.

“He’s now about 20 pounds,” the former chef laughs. “He won’t eat dry food, though. He prefers hamburger and chicken.”

The once-homeless special needs dog is now thriving and shows his gratitude by showering his savior with affection. While Brady cannot be replaced, rescuing Buddy has helped mend the hole in Danny’s heart.

Of veterans and pets

The Navy veteran is thankful for the role our organization played in helping him find joy after suffering a devastating loss.

“Pets for Patriots makes adopting your buddy easy and affordable,” he says, and believes other veterans should adopt a pet after a similar loss. “Go with your heart!”

By adopting an adult dog Danny learned another powerful lesson: many mature pets are familiar with the routines of home life. He was surprised how much Buddy knew considering he had been found as a stray.

“He was well trained and knew what to do,” he says. “He knows the sound of my truck and cries up a storm when he knows I’m coming.”

Danny does not have one ounce of regret for adopting a dog who most people would overlook, special needs and all. He recalls the day he picked him up at the shelter.

“He’s been my buddy ever since.”

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