Veteran and his dog: Thank You Bolo

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It has been interesting to see the type of people who bring in their pets to be cremated since I began working at a pet crematorium seven weeks ago. You come across all sorts of people who are filled with grief over the passing of a pet, many of whom view theirs as a child.

However, today I was particularly struck by a man in his mid to late 30’s. His eight year old boxer passed away after losing its fight with cancer. Normally, the two women I work with will process the animals that are brought in by their owners, but since I spoke to this man on the phone, he seemed to want me to do the job.

After filling out the paper work and picking out an urn, I asked him to drive his car around so I could meet him with a gurney and load the dog. He and I carefully placed Bolo onto a gurney and I spent some time talking to the man.

He told me he got the dog shortly after he returned from his third and final tour in Iraq. He said he saw things there no one should have to see and came back feeling pretty messed up in the head. It was Bolo, the dog he named after the call name he was given in the military — that was the only thing that could calm him down.

He explained how the dog just knew what he was feeling all the time and how to respond accordingly. If he was angry, Bolo would place his head in his lap to be stroked which calmed him down. When he was in a good mood, Bolo knew it was time to be playful. He said it was as if Bolo could read his mood before he could.

Then he just broke down and began to sob. He said he didn’t know what he was going to do without his mind reader any more.

What do you tell someone at a time like this? No words can assure someone when all he knows is his one source of comfort and calm has passed away. His pain was no less than that of someone who loses a spouse after decades of marriage.

We have become a nation all too quick to say yes to wars, but even quicker to forget about what it does to the brave people who volunteer to serve in our military. Not all veterans return from war unscathed or with damaged and mangled limbs. Too many return with unseen damages, memories they cannot forget no matter how hard they try.

We’ve heard the horrors of the poor health care our veterans receive when they get home. Far too many end up homeless not because they lost a leg to an explosive device, but because they have been damaged mentally and emotionally by the trauma from what they have witnessed.

Yes, they volunteered and sure no one made them, but what happens if, or when, our military finds itself unable to secure enough volunteers? Do you want to see a draft again? Do you feel comfortable outsourcing our military work to foreigners? As long as we remain a nation with a history in which 80 percent of the time we are at war, we are going to need young men and women to fight our fights.

Eventually, our men and women in service come home. They’ll dress like the rest of us and hope to blend in with a society they were willing to sacrifice their lives for. We owe them much more than just our gratitude. In some cases, we do all we can to hire them. Other times, we offer to buy them a meal and say thanks. But for some, all you can do is give them a hug and thank them for all they have sacrificed, and you know what? Sometimes that is just what they need at that moment.

Bolo’s ashes will be ready next week. They will sit somewhere in a room to be remembered for all he did for his master. However, ask yourself, “Are we doing enough as a society for all the men and women who return home from war damaged by the things they have seen that no one should see just so we can feel safe?”

If the answer is no, then perhaps it is time we begin to seek ways to help those who need it while also doing more to make sure future men and women are not sent off to far away lands to fight wars.