A retired military veteran, Steve grew up in Wisconsin. He began his military career in 1985 when he joined the National Guard. His father was a Korean War veteran, so the family has a long tradition of service to their country.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said.
In time, the army became his permanent job, serving as a heavy anti-tank infantryman for ten years. Steve really liked his job and his colleagues.
Steve deployed to Iraq in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). There he suffered injuries from an improvised explosive device (IED).
To this day, Steve struggles with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These invisible war injuries can have long-term effects on a person’s memory, mood and ability to concentrate. Other symptoms can include headaches, vision and hearing problems.
These injuries led to an early retirement from the army.
Since he retired, he has felt very lonely. So he came up with the idea of adopting a dog. This would be a double win: he would not be alone and a dog would get a home.
His choice fell on a blind and deaf dog that spent almost a year in a shelter in Texas.
In addition to a successful career, Steve was also a successful father. I have two sons, Nathan and Cole. Nathan has Coats disease – a rare retinal disorder – and has been blind in his left eye since birth. In addition, both biological siblings have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD do not look different from their peers, but they often behave, communicate and learn differently.
Steve lives with the long-lasting – and invisible – effects of TBI and PTSD and addresses his sons’ special needs.
He was separated from them for a long time for work reasons, and the return process was always long and difficult.
It was really lucky for everyone, especially Steve’s children, that the new family member was a blind and deaf dog. After the adoption, they named him Ernie. Ernie was born blind and deaf on a ranch. The rancher took the dog to a shelter because he could not provide him with the care he needed and a safe environment.
“I read about his special needs and thought, ‘God, this dog would suit us’. My children have special needs. I really wanted to meet him. “
Due to the delicate condition of this beautiful and sweet dog, Steve had to learn some special skills to make his stay in his new home easier. He used some really innovative communication methods.
“When I want to get his attention, he snaps his fingers, and that usually works,” Steve says. “Or if he’s near something I can touch, he’ll respond to the vibration.”
“He’s obsessed with riding in the car with me,” he says. “He always wants to get in the car and drive.”
Steve eventually introduced Nathan and Cole to Ernie. The children accepted Ernie completely.
“They know he has special needs just like they do. They have a special bond that way,” he says. “They know where to pet him and they don’t attack him too quickly. They are very good to him and he is very good to them. “
Now the family is finally complete, and the sadness of the job that filled Steve’s life has been replaced by Ernie’s presence. He learns something new every day from a dog, and the children too have a happier and more fulfilling childhood with this wonderful dog. And although the dog cannot see with his eyes, he feel the kindness and joy of this wonderful family with my heart.