“Everyone thinks they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.”
— W.R. Purche
I did have the best dog. His name was Astro, and he died a few weeks ago at the (best guess) age of 18. He was gentle and sweet and a constant for me in our chaotic military life. He had the waggiest tail (I have the broken picture frames to prove it), the prettiest eyes (one blue, one brown), and the softest ears (just the right height to reach down and pet). Astro must have had a rough start in life, but we made sure the 12 years he spent with us more than made up for it.
The story of Astro is more than just the story of a dog. It is our family story. His life with us represents the bookends of our active duty military career.
We adopted Astro as young newlyweds when my husband was starting pilot training. We said goodbye to him a few months after we moved home to Texas where my husband transitioned to a full-time spot with the Air National Guard. His passing marked the final part of a chapter in our lives now closed.
Astro and I found each other in Wichita Falls, Texas. My husband and I and our terrier mix, Maggie, moved there for pilot training a few months after we were married.
Now, I will issue this caveat: I ended up enjoying our time in Wichita Falls. We made great memories and lifelong friends. However, when we moved, I cried the whole way into town wondering just what I had gotten myself into.
While still in Texas (barely), it was the furthest I had ever lived away from my family and looked nothing like anywhere I had lived before. My husband started pilot training soon after our arrival and was very busy. I knew no one and was lonely. I knew I had to find a purpose and a reason to leave the house. We were planning to adopt a companion for Maggie, and I loved animals so I signed up for volunteer orientation at the local Humane Society.
I met Astro my first day volunteering. I went into his kennel to take him for a walk and found him cowering in the back. I sat down with him, and he immediately reached his paw up to me.
Our eyes locked and I knew then we were meant to be together.
The shelter staff told me he was older (about 6 at the time) and no one had shown much interest in adopting him. He had been abandoned at the shelter once then adopted and returned when his new family moved away.
We brought Astro home that weekend. He was timid and fearful, especially of men and men in hats in particular. Mops, brooms, and anything with a handle terrified him. The skin on his elbows was raw from months spent lying on concrete. He had a limp, the result of a broken leg that had never been set properly. It was obvious he had been abused and neglected. While he and I had an instant connection, it took many months for him to warm up to my husband. We knew he was finally starting to relax when we caught him trying to steal a breakfast burrito off my husband’s plate—while he was eating it.
Astro followed us to Phoenix when my husband started the F-16 B Course. He got to experience all the joys of desert living: learning to go to the bathroom on rocks and enduring the mandatory swimming lessons I gave our dogs in our backyard pool. He was with us for the excitement (and nerves!) when we found out we would be moving overseas to Italy.
Italy is a great place to be a dog.
Astro loved our big yard and the plethora of mountain trails right in our backyard. Always a lover of the squirrel chase, he learned quickly that the hedgehogs in our yard had sharp quills, and they were not afraid to use them. My husband was gone often during this assignment so Astro was the de facto man of the house. Of course he tore the ACL in his knee the week after my husband left on deployment.
It was quite the adventure finding an Italian orthopedic vet, driving an hour each way for post-op therapy, and carrying him up and down our front stairs multiple times a day for months after surgery.
While Italy was, overall, a wonderful time in our lives, it also was a season of loss and heartbreak for us. Within the span of a few months, I lost my beloved grandmother, two of our dear friends died in flying accidents, and another good friend was diagnosed with cancer. Through it all, Astro was a constant comfort for me in my grief.
Following Italy, we were assigned to Korea. This assignment ended up being a bit of a logistical nightmare. We knew going that my husband would be leaving within a few months for a 6 month TDY. I planned to return to my parents’ house so I could work during that time. We decided to leave Astro with them rather than have him make such a long trip twice in such a short time. After those 6 months were up, we prepared to return to Korea. Two weeks before we were set to leave, we found out we were being forced out of our off-base house with a yard and into an apartment on base. I knew Astro would not be happy without a yard (he had a fenced in acre at my parents’ house) and he was starting to show some age-related decline, so we made the decision to leave him with my parents for the remainder of our assignment.
I was devastated even though I knew we were doing what was best. I also think he was a great comfort to my mom during that time. She was having a hard time with me so far away and Astro served as a little piece of me.
We left Korea for Las Vegas and I was reunited with my boy. I consider these years my bonus time with Astro. He was definitely starting to slow down, but every time he would take a turn for the worse, he would rally and be back to himself again. He helped me through the long hours of this assignment and my first pregnancy. He also was there to welcome our son home. He was a constant presence at my feet during those sleepless nights with a newborn and loved to lie under the bassinet.
He seemed to know that he had precious cargo to watch over.
When we made the decision to separate from active duty and transition to full time with the guard in Texas, I prayed that we would get to bring Astro “home.” We had some close calls, but he was doing well when we moved. A few months after we arrived in Texas, Astro took a pretty dramatic turn for the worse. I knew the end was getting near; the bad days were starting to outnumber the good.
The morning after my husband left for a TDY (of course—Murphy’s law of TDYs still applies in the Guard), Astro could not get up out of bed. I knew it was time. I called the vet to let them know we were coming, and I dropped my son off with friends.
We sat in the car for a few minutes before we went into the vet and shared some Biscoff cookies (our Euro dog’s favorite nighttime treat).
I told him our story, and I told him how much I loved him. I thanked him for always being there for me. People often say I saved his life, but he saved me just as much. We found each other when I was a lonely newlywed just learning to navigate military life, and he walked beside me the whole way. This life is not easy, but he made it a little easier.
I am thankful for all the years we had together, and I am thankful that one last time he helped me adjust to a new place and a new way of life. My husband says he waited until I had another little boy to take care of. So thank you Astro. You, buddy, were a very, very good boy.