The Four Paws Of Resilience
by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Justin Davidson-Beebe
Five-year-old me was riding along on my rusty BMX bike when a
German shepherd charged toward me and knocked me straight off my
bike and bit me. Luckily, the owner was there to call the dog off,
or I probably would have been a meal for the beast. My relationship
with dogs at that point was not what I would call positive, but
little did I know at that time dogs would become a focal point of my
resilience throughout the rest of my life.
A couple of years
later, when my dad was deployed somewhere in the middle east as an
aircraft maintainer, my brother and I noticed white animal hair as
we sat in the back seat of my mom’s 1990s-era coupe on the way home.
I was elated.
“You got us a cat? “ I asked my mom.
“It’s a surprise,” my mom replied.
Turns out, it was not a
cat. It was a mutt we later named Jake, a white German shepherd
mixed with who knows what. The first day he was in our house, I was
scared for my life. I climbed up on top of the clothes dryer,
kicking at him as he was trying to lick me, trying to make him leave
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Justin Davidson-Beebe, 21st Space Wing public affairs officer, with his dog Butters
on March 20, 2019 at Colorado Springs, Colorado. He feels that Butters and the other dogs
he had through his life help him maintain his resilience, because of their innate enthusiasm. (U.S. Air Force
photo courtesy 2nd Lt. Justin Davidson-Beebe)
Jake did not leave me alone, and I eventually formed a bond with
him, and he became a close friend. I was a young teenager when
growths started forming throughout his body as a result of cancer.
While I was away in Pennsylvania for my grandmother’s funeral, Jake
was no longer able to go up or down stairs.
When we returned
from the funeral, we had to take Jake to the veterinarian to put him
down. My mother, brother and I sat in the spotless, sterile white
room waiting for the vet. I pulled out my flip phone and took one
you taking that picture?” my mom asked.
“I want to remember”
That summer was the first time in my life where I
experienced significant loss, and they both hit me hard: first my
grandmother, then my dog.
Not long after that my mom got an
English springer spaniel and we named him Quentin, after the film
director. He became just as important to my life as Jake had been.
My parents divorced around that same time during my first year of
high school. Death and divorce can be a hard thing for a young teen
to come to terms with, but I used to play fetch with Quentin for
hours and it would take my mind away from the difficulties of these
experiences. His obvious, ecstatic joy in something so simple like
retrieving a flying disk had a calming effect on my mind.
After high school I went away for college and then joined the
service. I’ve been in the Air Force for almost six years now, and
haven’t seen Quentin regularly. All-in-all, we’ve been apart for 10
years, with a couple visits in that span of time. Whenever I do
visit, he is thrilled to see me. While he has grown old without me
present in his life, he remembers me every time I see him. Maybe
it’s because I used to give him a lot of treats and play fetch with
him all the time; whatever it is, our relationship still feels
Aside from spending time with my own dogs, my
wife and I volunteer on a regular basis helping people adopt dogs at
the local animal shelter. Seeing the great variety of emotions
people experience when they pick the dog they want to have in their
lives is rewarding. I’ve seen people break down and cry knowing they
found their dog.
People look for many things in their
companions, and dogs come in all shapes and sizes, serve all kinds
of different functions and have all types of personalities, just
like people. You have the military working dogs, the bomb-sniffing
dogs at the airport, the emotional support dogs who help so many
people, dogs who herd, dogs who retrieve, and of course you also
have the teacup Chihuahuas who spend a lot of their life in a
At the dog shelter I’ve seen families with babies
and kids, elderly couples, single people, and even a guy with a
10-inch bowie knife on his belt who I had to inform was carrying it
illegally. One thing unites them all: they want a dog in their life
– they want a companion.
My wife and I adopted a golden
doodle puppy from a rescue earlier this year and named him Butters.
It has been a lot of work raising and training him, but he has made
it past all the big rocks. Yet again, I have a friend, a companion,
who I can count on to be there for me, through good days and bad.
Butters’ pure enthusiasm for seeing me at the end of a long
day makes me feel good, and it’s as simple as that. Whether it’s
some brain chemical responding to the stimuli presented to me or
some spiritual connection, I do not know. The little guy just seems
to love life to the fullest, and seeing that love helps me love
life, even on the hard days.
As the Air Force refocuses on
resiliency, I think about the people who have been there for me, but
I also think about the canine companions I’ve had in my life, and
how they have been there for me every time. There’s always another
great dog out there looking for a home.
Resiliency is not the
same thing for everyone, and people bolster their resiliency through
different means. Find what works for you, be it a dog or something
else entirely. Life is not always easy, and the most resilient
people do not try to do it alone. They rely on their friends and
family, including, for many, their dog friends.
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