Recently someone asked me why dogs are so important to me. It would seem justifiably poetic if I told you I was saved by a military working dog in Iraq or Afghanistan saved, but I can’t.
In my post What is a Soldier’s Inspiration to Write a novel in Afghanistan?, I mention that the first book that really made an impact on me was Where the Red Fern grows by Wilson Rawls. I grew up wanting my own Old Dan and Little Ann.
I received my first dog when I was eight, a dachshund named Alfie. When I was 13, I came home from school and my beloved Alfie had been removed from the house. Allegedly, she nipped at a small child who was teasing her. I was heartbroken.
In college I was promised a dog by my then-girlfriend (later to be my wife) if—not when—I graduated from college. Seems like there was some lingering doubt about my potential! Eight years after graduation there was still no dog. Then I got a shock that would rock my entire world, shake me to my core and cause me to take action.
I was a company commander of a 200-soldier company deployed to northwestern Baghdad. My company was charged with picking up the crumbling pieces of the failing Iraqi Police Force in five districts with a total of 17 police stations. Four of the stations had been overrun and ransacked two weeks prior to my company’s taking the mission. It was a challenging mission and my troops and I were in harm’s way, getting shot at and blown up every day. Check out the LA Times article for a snippet of my life that year.
In December of 2004, nine months into the deployment, I went home for mid-tour leave. (I left my female Executive Officer in charge of the 200 Soldier Company, by the way, and she kicked ass.)
During leave in the beautiful Austrian Alps my now ex-wife told me she wasn’t happy in our marriage and didn’t love me like I loved her. In retrospect I should have recognized some of the signals, but I had unconditional faith in a person I had been married to for seven years and together with for thirteen years. I believed our love was unconditional. I knew that constant deployments were causing stress to our relationship but rationalized that the stress was temporary, the marriage was forever. I was wrong.
My company, the 127th Military Police Company, was and still is my family. I rallied for them, but what helped me get through the last few months was spending my sacred few free moments searching for a dog with my company First Sergeant, Damien McIntosh. He was getting a beagle and I settled on a breed I’d never heard of because they reminded me of Little Ann and Old Dan.
Fast forward to late summer 2005. My wife and I had just moved to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri and I went to Kentucky to pick up my new pal, a Vizsla named Sammy, who became my new best friend. As my marriage continued to fall apart, the one consistent thing in my life was Sammy. I had had to give up command of my company to move to Missouri and I was an instructor for future platoon leaders and company commanders at the U.S. Army Military Police School at the time. Any of my students will tell you that I took Sammy everywhere.
Then my wife moved out, we divorced and I was alone. I was once on top of the world and now my world was blown apart. My company was gone and now the person I invested the last 13 years of my life had left me as well. I lost two families within six months. I was a wreck or a person and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without Sammy. He was there for me every day, anytime, to love, play and cuddle. I found strength and the will to push forward through his unconditional love for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He was and still is my rock.
So, no, my life wasn’t saved by a dog. My soul was. Sammy Adams Hanrahan is a soul-saver.
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