21: A Marine’s Mission

21: A Marine’s Mission

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

A Marine’s Mission

Fun fact: The Boston Terrier, an American breed, is a cross between a white English Terrier and an English Bulldog.

My husband John heard about an older Boston Terrier at the Williamson County Animal Shelter and he was determined to rescue him. The dog had been named “Hard Luck Harley” because he had lost his original owner to the war in Iraq and his second owner to a fatal car crash. John asked no more questions because, being a retired Marine, he believed that you take care of your own. Little did he know that Harley would change his life.

Harley was eleven years old and was in the vehicle during the accident that killed his most recent owner. He and another dog survived. Harley had been injured and had bitten one of the rescuers as they were trying to remove him from the vehicle. As a result, Harley had spent the last two weeks in quarantine. When they brought him out to meet John, he waddled over and then lay at John’s feet. John had never seen such a large Boston Terrier. Harley was a whopping thirty-eight pounds, fifty percent above normal.

John did not see an obese senior dog with a mysterious bump on his backside. He saw a dog that needed a new home to live out his final years. John knew there were medical issues but he didn’t care. On the way home, he took Harley to the vet, Dr. McBride, and was advised that Harley had a perennial hernia, which meant that his intestines were extruding into his pelvic area. Dr. McBride advised John to feed Harley soft foods and make sure that he had daily bowel movements. He also said that Harley wouldn’t live long.

Once John and Harley were home, John began to investigate exactly where Harley had been. He knew the date that Harley had arrived at the animal control facility, so he researched accidents with fatalities on that date. There was only one: Rose Marie Gill. Then John learned that Harley had originally belonged to Rose’s son, Steven Patrick Gill, a United States Marine who had been killed in action on July 21, 2005. John was shocked. Fate had placed a Marine’s dog in his care.

The more John looked, the more information he found. There was a post office in Round Rock named for Steven Gill. He searched for people who had placed messages on Steven’s memorial page and found Karen Cupples, who was Rose’s best friend. She filled in many of the blanks about Harley. Eventually, John even met Steven’s father Bill, who answered more questions.

John got very little sleep in those early days with Harley, who was having nightmares. He would whimper until John curled up on the floor next to him. Of course, that meant that Harley ended up sleeping in our bed.

Harley was seen all over Burnet County and went everywhere John went. Harley had a Facebook page where he gained many friends and helped spread the word that senior dogs need to be rescued, too. As a result, people started opening their hearts to the frosty-faced senior dogs that found themselves in rescues, animal shelters and city pounds. Harley touched many lives and was an inspiration. His friends loved to read about his adventures on Facebook and all of the witty remarks “Harley” made.

Sadly, on February 12th, Harley went on his last patrol. John was lost without his sidekick. Harley’s Facebook friends were also shocked. John decided to memorialize Harley with a tattoo. He visited American Gypsy Tattoo in Marble Falls, Texas, and met the owner, Dave Justice, also a Marine. Dave picked a picture of Harley from his Facebook page and then designed a tattoo of Harley that was so lifelike it took John’s breath away. American Gypsy made a video of the tattoo and the moving story of a man and his dog. The video can be found on YouTube by searching for “Sarge Harley.”

As John grieved, he didn’t know that he was going to rescue another Boston Terrier and also create a non-profit organization to keep rescuing dogs. The Sarge Harley Memorial Fund was born, and already it has met with great success on Facebook. An auction was held to kick off the organization, and $700 was raised in just a week to help pay medical bills for a Boston Terrier named Tulu that had begun having seizures and was in need of testing and medication. Money has been donated toward the purchase of a wheelchair for a little pug, medical treatment for a little Boston Terrier in Dallas with a severe skin problem, and even a little dog in California that needed emergency surgery to remove an eye.

A new Boston Terrier rescue named Recon has joined our family now. John was floored to discover that Recon was born on July 21st, the anniversary of Steven’s death. To make it an even bigger coincidence, Steven Gill was a Recon Marine. Recon may not be Harley, but he is working his magic and making himself at home in John’s heart.

~Cindy Lou Ruffino

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