How Two Dogs Saved a Marine

My Turn: Stephanie Hall shares a deeply personal story of how a community rallied around she and her husband during their family’s most troubling hours.

I can remember the smile on Steve’s face when I gave him Scout. Steve looked at me and said, “What is that?” I jokingly responded that it’s what people would call a “German Shepherd puppy,” and he grinned and told me, “You better not put that in front of me unless she is mine.” The two became inseparable from that moment forward.

You can’t imagine what it’s like to watch someone find the ability to live again. Before Scout, my husband—a U.S. Marine Veteran who’d been awarded three Purple Hearts and a Medal of Valor during three tours of duty, including Iraq—couldn’t go to the store alone without the possibility of a panic attack. At one point, he was on 20 pills a day. But somehow, this German Shepherd worked miracles with Steve’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His smile returned and the prescriptions went away. Now my husband wanted to get up every day and go places. He found a peace that he couldn’t achieve before Scout. He was living again.

When I talk about some of the best memories of Scout and Steve it often starts off with me biting part of my lip, as I can remember doing that every time I would walk into the room and realize there was another pair of shoes I could no longer wear. But their happiness kept everything in perspective. Scout changed our lives.  She gave me the ability to sleep through the night because Steve no longer had nightmares, and to go to the store and not worry if my husband was okay. Steve felt so safe knowing that Scout had his back, and that when he wasn’t here she would do anything to protect us.

1,000 Year Flood

If we knew then what we know now, well, I wouldn’t be writing this. Scout and Steve loved the water so when the two of them went outside to play in the rain, during last fall’s “1,000 Year Flood,”  everything felt normal. Little did I know that the water would start a life-threatening fungal infection on Scout’s skin.  Treatment at our regular vet wasn’t working.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Scout began bleeding uncontrollably as I bathed her. We rushed her once again to the vet, but were told she probably wouldn’t make it through the night. My mind was racing, “I can’t lose this dog because it will kill my husband.”

I called One80 Place—a Charleston nonprofit that works with war veterans—and begged for her help. They put us in touch with Charleston Animal Society. When we got to the shelter, we met with Kristin Kifer, who was incredibly caring. I told her I didn’t have much but I would give my right arm if she could just make Scout okay.

As the infection worsened, Scout’s tail had to be amputated, and for a week, we took her in for bandaging and treatment. But the fungal infection was relentless. Charleston Animal Society reached out to Dr. Henri Bianucci at Veterinary Specialty Care. Dr. Bianucci had never seen anything like this, but he was dedicated to doing whatever he could to save Scout for Steve, because he was so grateful for all the sacrifices my husband made for his country.

Saying Goodbye

There was never a moment Dr. Bianucci ever stopped trying, even seeing Scout on Christmas. That was a tough day. Scout struggled to get up so I laid down with her on the floor and I told her how sorry I was that I couldn’t take away her pain. I loved her and could never repay her for giving me my husband back, but I promised her it was going to be okay.

December 28th will always be a sad day for us. When we arrived at the clinic, Dr.Bianucci walked in and I could see how upset he was. Scout could barely move, but she still gave Steve hugs and kisses. Until the end, I couldn’t believe how incredible the bond was between them. I was overcome with grief and the drive home was almost too much to handle after saying our good-byes to Scout.

Steve tried so hard to hold it together after that, but each day I watched my husband fall a little harder. He didn’t want another dog—they’d never be as good as Scout. And he poured himself into work just so he didn’t have to come home and have Scout not be here. We were all so grief-stricken and simple things became so hard. On New Year’s Eve, Steve had a panic attack driving over the Ravenel Bridge. He pulled over, turned on his hazards and cried with the ashes of Scout on his lap. His PTSD was getting worse and we finally went to see his doctor at the Veteran’s Administration. His doctor made Steve understand that he needed to consider getting another dog, not only for himself, but for his family.

A Mystery Dog Arrives

Then Kristin called. There was puppy living with a Charleston Animal Society foster family that sounded promising.  No one had been sure what kind of dog she was, because she had mange so severe, she had lost all of her fur, but now the fur was back. Seeing a photo of the dog was like a gift from God. I opened my eyes to pictures of this beautiful German Shepherd and she was ours if we wanted her. She was the spitting image of Scout! I was speechless.

The ride to meet her was long as Steve struggled with emotions of excitement and grief. I knew he was only going there for me. He had planned on telling me that he didn’t like her, but he underestimated the power of love. The second he held Kimber in his arms and she stuck her nose in his pocket like Scout always did, all he could say was, “Can I take her?”

Kristin, Aldwin Roman (Anti-cruelty & Outreach Director for CAS) and the foster family were miracle workers. After Kimber’s spay and final check-up, you can’t imagine what it felt like when we walked into the room and there stood the entire staff that had worked with Scout, and now Kimber. I tried so hard to come up with a way to say thank you and I failed horribly. The emotions of the loss of Scout and watching Steve smile for the first time in a long time when he saw Kimber, was overwhelming. I was there and yet I felt like I was watching a movie of my life. I stood back and I looked at all of these people who did this to save my husband and my family. I didn’t know that there were people out there like them. Thank you, Charleston Animal Society, for everything you do not only for animals, but for families like mine.