It's a Dogs Life

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A recent online article published by Applied Developmental Science highlighted that strong attachments to animals may help military-connected children develop resiliency and other positive developmental traits. 

Thank you Applied Developmental Science for the validation! Beau, Molly, and Rocky thank you too. 

For the thirty years we were an active duty family there was always a dog by our side. The funny thing is that when we set out to get our first puppy as newlyweds we never anticipated how much of our military memories would include the funny, insane, tender, and aggravating moments that only a pet, and in our case, our dogs would provide. 

I remember vividly breaking my parenting teeth on our puppy; General Beauregard of Atlanta, or Beau for short. We brought him home while Mike was at the Infantry Basic Officers Course and took him along to our first assignment; Gralstedt Germany. 

He went everywhere with us as Germany is a very dog friendly country. But we quickly figured out that Germans have well behaved dogs.  And Beau? Well, not so much. Bier tents and open air tables were the extent of his patience, but we happily took him along because seriously, he was part of the family. 

Two years after we got Beau we had our first baby and from that moment on Beau took second chair to Michael’s first. Rather than resenting the baby Beau embraced him. He became his protector and constant companion. From frolics in the German countryside to a permanent seat at his side when at the dinner table, Beau and Michael were inseparable. 

By the time we welcomed our second  baby, Megan, Beau had made three moves with us and was getting the hang of the “military dog syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about, wait till Dad’s downrange, Mom is chasing a toddler with a baby on her hip, and dog stands near the front door waiting to make his escape! Fort Lewis equaled “where’s beau?” as I was constantly putting kids in car seats and scouring neighborhoods looking for him. Oh the joy! 

Beau traveled with us for 16 years which included two overseas tours and various Posts in the U.S. One plus of having to walk him no matter where we landed cannot be overstated. It was a chance for the kids to get to know their neighborhood without being obvious about it. Dog walks could turn into kid talks which could turn into friendships. You never knew. 

Towards the end of his life Beau taught us that goodbyes are heartbreaking but one must go on. As baby number three arrived 10 years after baby number two, Beau was showing his age and could not play or muster the energy needed to “raise” another Barron- although he did try. But a few months after Joe’s first birthday we knew. 

I have never seen my strong, fearless, Airborne Ranger Infantryman so consumed with sadness. It was Mike that whispered our love and affection to him as he held him in his arms in our Vet’s office. He shared our pride in having him, the funny ways he made us laugh, and his never ending gratitude in knowing that when he was gone, Beau had been there to protect and defend us. 

The car ride home was so quiet, and yet our minds raced with memories and images of our Beau. 

We promised to bury him in our forever home which meant it was 14 more years before we could make good on our promise. And during our first Thanksgiving, as a newly minted retired military family, we gathered together and buried our Beau under the oak tree in our new back yard. 

Molly and Rocky have subsequently followed in Beau’s footsteps. They are both beautiful dogs who stole our hearts quickly. But for this military family it will always be Beau who made a young couple a family, and a young family a team. For 16 years he showed us that no matter where we landed, if he was with us, it was home.