Hugo Boss, as I like to call my handsome best friend, was originally known as Hugo T0719. You can find those numbers tattooed in his ears. Before Hugo was my best furr-end and protector, he was an IED bomb detection and attack canine in the United States Army.

In August of 2014, I moved away from all my friends and family in Arizona to Bryan, Texas to start veterinary school, and was living alone in a “less-than-safe” neighborhood.  After my first year there, I desperately wanted to adopt a canine companion to keep me company and help me feel safe – something small, relaxed, and low-maintenance so I could still focus on my studies.  Hugo was none of those things.

You see, when I met Hugo in 2015, he had recently returned from his second tour in Afghanistan, where his handler was lost in battle and Hugo endured a blow that left him nearly toothless.  He spent four months in the kennels of a military base recovering while his future was being decided. Seeing as he was no longer able to hold his grip on the bite suit due to his lack of teeth, and his temperament did not leave him eligible for titanium implants, Hugo was officially retired.

Now Hugo faced another battle: learning to be a normal dog. The military dogs are work driven, they are not allowed to play with other dogs, and they are taught that it’s okay to attack humans. Sadly, these dogs don’t make good pets. Hugo was highly anxious, extremely energetic, and dominance aggressive against dogs and occasionally humans.

Hugo’s veterinarian at the military base happened to be my mother. She thought it was a wonderful idea to send her daughter with an attack-trained, eighty-pound beast. I, on the other hand, disagreed. After much persuasion on her end, I agreed to meet the dog, if only to silence her.

As fate would have it, I fell in love in one afternoon. Hugo was beautiful, intelligent, and had a gentle soul that simply needed nourishing. His goofy smile and sweet kisses won me over in seconds. I knew at that time that I could not return home without him.

Hugo became my vet school roommate, study buddy, therapist, and running partner. I’d say he was happy to transition from a working man to the retired life. Although it has been challenging, we have made tremendous progress. He now enjoys making new friends with both dogs and humans, and even some cats! We still work on his social skills daily and the training never stops, but that makes our relationship even stronger.

My experiences with Hugo have taught me valuable lessons about patience, understanding, and love. Now, as I transition into my role as a veterinarian, I see that I am better able to work with anxious/aggressive patients because of my time with Hugo. I can’t imagine my life without Hugo, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Dr. Simpson is an associate veterinarian at THRIVE in North Austin. Her family owns and operates a large cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona, where she spent my childhood as a helping hand along with my four brothers. She recently graduated from Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine last May. She enjoys all outdoor activities, exercise, sports, playing ball, reading, cooking and of course, exploring with Hugo.

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