From Fear to Faith: A Tale of Love, Commitment, and Dogs on Deployment

In late 2013, while scrolling through Facebook, I (Carolyn Barrington, writer and avid pet-lover) came across an ad for Dogs on Deployment, a 501(c)(3) national non-profit organization that provides an online network for service members to search for volunteers who are willing to board their pets during their owner’s service commitments. Being a pet lover and military spouse, I immediately felt a connection to Dogs on Deployment’s mission.

That night, I brought up Dogs of Deployment to my husband, and we discussed the possibility of volunteering as boarders for the organization. Being an army brat, as well as a Disabled Veteran Army Specialist, my husband felt just as strongly about supporting Dogs of Deployment as I did. While we already had two dogs, we decided that for such a noble cause, we could handle one more.

Jean and Roxy together.

I signed up on the Dogs on Deployment website and soon after was contacted by K.L., a young man who lived a few hours away from us who needed someone to watch after his dog while he was in boot camp. After exchanging a few emails and speaking on the phone, we decided to have a trial weekend so our dogs could get to know each other and we could make sure that we were a good fit for K.L.’s.

K.L. drove out to our house in the suburbs with his dog, Jean Gray, a beautiful brindle Catahoula Leopard who was about a year old. Much to our delight, Jean and our young Labrador mix, Roxy, hit it off right away. Our older dog, Callie, a border collie, seemed grateful that Roxy had a new playmate and was content to watch the two younger dogs wrestle and play tug of war

K.L. had warned us that Jean had some issues and “wasn’t a perfect dog,” but we didn’t fully appreciate the trauma of her past at first.

In hindsight, we probably put Jean through a bit too much that trial weekend with the introduction to a new environment, new dogs, the dog park, and a bath in the bathtub. However, Jean handled it all like a champion and took it in stride. I remember K.L.’s pleasant surprise when I told him Jean had let me give her a bath in the tub, and he said that meant she trusted me. It wouldn’t be until later on in our boarding journey that I understood just how profound that was.

Hindsight aside, it was a rousingly successful trial weekend, and we began finalizing plans to board Jean while K.L. attended boot camp in January 2014. The Dogs on Deployment website and contract were invaluable in making sure we had all contingencies covered, from what sort of food Jean ate to Veterinary visits for her annuals, to where we would board her when my husband and I went on vacation. 

Just after the first of the year 2014, K.L. brought Jean over with her bed, a bag of food and her toys. Jean and Roxy were overjoyed to be reunited and my husband and I were excited to welcome her into our family. Jean was playful, vocal, and snuggly and we quickly fell in love with her. We also quickly noticed some of the issues K.L. had warned us about. We kept the 3-3-3 rule firmly in mind and were patient with her.

The 3-3-3 rule refers to what you can expect from a new foster or adopted dog during the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months in your home. It takes approximately 3 days for a dog just to decompress to the change of environment. It takes approximately 3 weeks for a dog to start to adjust to a new routine and settle into the pack. It takes approximately 3 months for a dog to build trust and bond with you.

For example, Jean was terrified of our hallway that led back to the study, the office, the guest room and the spare bathroom where we bathed the dogs. I remembered K.L. telling me that he often had to carry Jean from his bedroom out to the living room of his apartment because she completely shut down in the hallway. I spent a lot of my day working in the study and when my husband was home, he was often working in his office. Our dogs would join us and we left Jean to her own devices, giving her time and space.

Jean and Roxy together.

It took about a month until Jean cautiously made her way down the hall on her own and joined me, Roxy, and Callie in the study. The first day she joined us made my heart swell with pride. I knew she would come around eventually and I was so very happy for her when she felt secure enough to traverse the hallway on her own. After a couple of months, Jean was racing up and down the hallway, playing with Roxy in the study or office and even napping under the daybed in the guest room. 

Jean was terrified of loud noises, thunderstorms, and fireworks to the point that I was afraid she would hurt herself trying to squeeze under furniture. Nothing we tried seemed to help and watching her shake broke my heart. My husband cleared a space in our walk-in master closet between the shoe rack and the suitcases, making her a nest of towels and blankets and that became Jean’s safe space. From then on, at the first sign of thunder she would race to the closet and curl up in her hidey-hole or dance in front of the closet door until we could open it for her. 

I’m not exactly sure when we deduced that Jean had come from an abusive home before K.L. adopted her from the humane society, but there are a few incidents that stand out in my mind that cemented our opinion. 

One afternoon, several months into her stay with us, I was cleaning our master bath with one of those scrub brushes that has an extension handle on it. My husband, who was in the living room, asked me a question and I couldn’t really hear him so I went into the living room with the brush in my hand. Jean took one look at the extension rod, tucked her tail and ran to the other side of the house shaking all over. My heart shattered into a hundred pieces at the look of terror in her big brown eyes and I was devastated that at some point in her young life Jean had possibly been beaten with a pipe or similar object. 

I immediately put the scrub brush away and sat on the floor as close to Jean as I dared and just talked soothingly to her. It took a good half an hour before she calmed down enough to stop shaking and approach me again. I think it might have been my tears more than anything that convinced her to crawl into my lap. After that day, I was very careful to closet myself in the bathroom before pulling out that extended-handle brush so Jean wouldn’t be traumatized by it again.

There were a few other incidents that were, well, incidental and not worth mentioning here, but each one furthered our opinion that Jean had probably spent her formative puppy years in an abusive home. It explained a lot of her issues and helped my husband and I understand some of her behaviors better. It also made me extremely grateful that K.L. had rescued her and that he had trusted my husband and I to be part of her recovery while he was away. 

In fact, the most rewarding part of fostering Jean was watching her come out of her shell. While I like to think that providing a stable environment helped, most of the credit for that change in Jean goes to our labrador mix, Roxy, who was glued to Jean at the hip. If Jean didn’t follow Roxy somewhere, Roxy would turn around and come back for her. Roxy taught Jean that rugs on the floor were okay to walk and run over, that the stationary bicycle wasn’t going to harm her, and that Tug-of-War with a rope was second only to Chase as the Best Game Ever. 

As our time with Jean started to come to its end, we looked forward to watching her reunite with her newly graduated military dad. Unfortunately, K.L. couldn’t keep Jean and let us know that his friends, Aiden and Skye, were going to adopt her. It would have been bittersweet to part with Jean after nearly 8 months, but handing Jean over to two strangers was quite emotional. My husband and I knew that K.L. trusted his friends and after chatting with them a couple times about their own dogs, we were confident Jean would continue healing in their care. 

We exchanged phone numbers with Aiden and Skye and friended one another on Facebook so we could stay in touch. Dogs on Deployment brought the five of us together, but our love for Jean was the glue that kept us in touch with one another over the years. In September 2021, I received a note from K.L. that Jean had passed over the rainbow bridge and he thanked my husband and I once again for watching over her. I was incredibly touched that after so many years, K.L. thought to reach out to me with the news of her passing. 

K.L. says of his DoD experience, “it was a stressful time in the initial phase of joining the military, and being single and with no family support at the time, there were many things I had to be concerned about and Jean was my top priority. Being adopted from the humane society not too long ago, I was doing my best not to give her up. When I found Carolyn and Dogs on Deployment, it was such a relief cause I knew Jean would be in good hands while I went through boot camp and other initial training. Dogs on Deployment is a resource that I am glad to have and I think I can say the same for other service members who went through the same thing.”

While the five of us still miss Jean deeply, we are humbled to have been a part of her life if only for a short time and we are grateful to Dogs on Deployment for bringing Jean into our lives.