By Jean Clavette GravesFort Polk, La. — If you’ve been stationed at Fort Polk or lived in the surrounding community for the last two years, you are probably well aware that our commanding general is a note writer. His signature red-sharpie notes on newspaper articles, slide presentations, operational orders and photos can be seen on display across the installation and in the homes and offices of citizens in the surrounding community. Seeing his distinctive script, your name and “ATW BG Frank” can elicit a host of emotions. It’s nice to be recognized and to know that what you are doing matters. Recently, the public affairs office got several notes from the CG — all very complimentary — but one particularly caught my eye and made me laugh.As you know, our Command Information Officer, Chuck Cannon, has been illustrating his chaotic life with four cats. He wrote a calamitous-cat commentary about trying to complete his honey-do list while his four cats were determined to sabotage his efforts at every turn. Thankfully, Chuck survived the misadventure mostly unscathed, with blood drawn only twice.As a result, he received a note from the commander about his story that said, “Chuck, we might have to get you a dog! ATW BG Frank.”That note made me laugh. I knew the commander had a dog, and I’ve been tempted to offer to dog sit if he ever needed a dog sitter. I’ve become the go-to guy amongst my friends to dog sit when they go out of town.In fact, one of my dogs was shipped back to me from friends who were stationed in Korea last year.Lucy is a Louisiana girl and didn’t fare well in the metropolis of Seoul. Many of the local nationals were afraid of her, also. Her breed is unknown, but we think she is a Carolina Dog, also known as a Dixie Dingo. They are feral dogs primarily found in the southeastern United States; but Lucy, although a little wild, is a pampered pooch.Over the course of our marriage, my husband Drew and I have adopted, befriended and raised six dogs. As the late George Carlin said, “life is a series of dogs.” His stand up bit is hysterical, but having dogs, while amusing at times, is anything but funny.It’s a deeply moving experience where two creatures, one human and one canis familiaris, bond in a manner that only other dog lovers can understand. Dogs choose to commune with humans; they trust us; live and work alongside us, and the relationships we build with them are remarkable.We adopted our first dog (our first baby) in 1998 while we were stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. The baby, a faun-colored Chihuahua named Radar, was my husband’s best friend. Radar had a great life. He traveled to Germany, Kansas, back to Missouri and to Colorado. While my husband was doing a Rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Radar passed away due to complications with an enlarged heart. That was the most difficult news I ever had to deliver.We got our second dog, Rocket, a beautiful boxer with a fancy bloodline, through breeders associated with the German Kennel Club. When we went to see the puppies, they alluded that he was defective and not suitable for showing. That’s when we knew he was the dog for us. We didn’t want a show dog.Shortly after we got this boxer puppy, my husband went to Fort Leonard Wood for the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, now called the Advanced Leadership Course. I was in Germany doing “stairwell” living with a Chihuahua and a brand new puppy, transitioning from active duty and beginning my career as a Department of the Army Civilian. Rocket was a hard-head and a lot of work.During BNOC, my husband tore his anterior cruciate ligament and then 9/11 happened. His return to Germany was delayed, he underwent surgery in December and then deployed to Kosovo (against his doctor’s orders) in February 2002. I was stuck with this wild dog.I failed to mention, Drew was the one who wanted a boxer. He said his granddad had one, and he always wanted one. His grandfather also had a Chihuahua.Somehow, Rocket became my dog. He once ran off into the German wilderness (picture the Brothers Grimm) during a long walk. I searched that eerie forest for what seemed like hours; after I found him, I knew I couldn’t live without him. He was the dog for me.All of his annoying habits (peeing when he got excited, drooling all over the floor, trying to lick your plate when you walked by, getting his head stuck in the cat box, being caught standing on the kitchen table or being extremely rambunctious) no longer mattered. I loved that dog.Rocket and I were thick as thieves. Where I went, he went with me. We’d often walk to the marketplatz then take the bus home. In Germany, dogs are allowed nearly everywhere.When our son Baker was born, Rocket could be found under his crib as he slept, becoming a second set of eyes for me. He was vigilant and on guard for the tiny human.Rocket and Radar traveled with us back from Germany to Fort Riley. They kept my son and me company while Drew spent three years on the drill sergeant trail, during one deployment to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.After drill-sergeant duty, we spent four years at Fort Carson. While at Carson, we acquired a third dog, an English bulldog and Labrador retriever mix. We saw her at the pet store and thought she was a Boxer like Rocket. The sales associate told us she was a Bullador, the latest in designer hybrids.We left for dinner and a few beers at Phantom Canyon Brewery, and my friend convinced me that sometimes dogs needed to be rescued from the pet store. She said when they get too big the dogs are sent back to the puppy mill.I may have been slightly intoxicated, but I decided I needed to go back to the mall and save her. Twelve hundred dollars later, I purchased Rowdy — the most expensive mutt in history.Having three dogs was too much. Rowdy was a wild woman; she chewed up Drew’s government blackberry, our grandfather clock and the legs of our kitchen table. But, she was also extremely sweet and loving. We could not imagine rehoming her. After Radar died, I thought to myself “no more dogs. We are back to a two dog family,” but my husband’s fellow Soldiers had other plans.As I mentioned, Radar passed away while Drew was in the box with the 110th Military Police Company in 2011. I couldn’t reach him and had to send a text to his executive officer, 1st Lt. Christopher Housel, who relayed the message. (Housel is now a major, and I feed him and his buddies every time they do a rotation at Fort Polk).My husband typically has two emotions that are seen by his Soldiers, leaders and peers — humor and anger. After he heard about Radar, however, they saw a broken-hearted man. Drew told me he felt like he lost his best friend. The next day, the spouse of another NCO in the company showed up with a little black and white Chihuahua. She told me her husband sent her over with the pick of the litter for Graves. That little dog’s name is Daisy, and she worships the ground my husband walks on. It’s humorous to see this tough-gruff man with his purse dog, but they’re a nice pair.That leads me to our journey to Fort Polk, Louisiana and why we are here. After that Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, Drew departed for Afghanistan. It was supposed to be a nine-month deployment, but his platoon did such a great job they stayed on for the full year.During the deployment, his branch manager said he needed to leave Fort Carson. Drew would be promoted to Master Sgt. soon, and there was no spot for him in his current battalion. He was told to update his wish list on his Army Knowledge Online profile; we chose Hawaii, Alaska and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. His branch manager called back and said, “You’ve got three choices: Germany, Japan and Fort Polk.”We loved Germany; Japan would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but we had three dogs (and a cat), a new truck, a camper and Rocket was twelve years old. We were afraid he wouldn’t make the flight. We ultimately decided to come to Fort Polk because of our dog.When we left Colorado, it was 8 degrees. When we arrived to Fort Polk, it was 70 degrees and humid; it might as well have been 100 degrees. We lived in our camper (with three dogs, a cat and our kid) for a couple of months before we found a place to live.Two weeks after receiving our household goods and settling in, Rocket had a massive seizure. The vet said he had blood cancer, and the only humane thing to do was to put him out of his misery. We let him eat Fat Boy and Skinny hamburgers and ride around in the truck before the vet gave him medicine that put him into an eternal sleep. All three of his humans were there as he left us for the rainbow bridge. Even now, it’s heartbreaking to write.We were back to two dogs. We only need two dogs. After we lost Rocket, I didn’t think I’d ever love another dog, and that was fine. Rowdy and Daisy were all we needed.On a weekend outing to Lake Charles and routine stop at PetSmart, we found Chance. They were having an adoption event and we all separately interacted with this weird looking Shar-Pei/Sheppard mix. On the drive back home, my son said, “Did you see that brown and black Shar-Pei? He reminded me of Rocket.” Drew and I had both seen him and, while he definitely wasn’t a boxer, he had dark soulful eyes and leaned against his cage to be rubbed — just like Rocket would do to our legs when he wanted attention. We talked about him the entire trip home and, by the time we returned, we voted to take a chance on Chance. The next day, I called in sick and went back to Lake Charles to pick him up. We call him a Louisiana dingo because he always smells like swamp water.Here we are with our four dogs Daisy, Rowdy, Chance and Lucy. They each have managed to carve a spot in our hearts. Rowdy loves to ride in the car and visit Lowes with me. She always gets a lot of attention and is exhausted whenever we get home. We call her “mama Row” because she treats the other dogs (and cats) like they are her puppies.Daisy can always be found under a blanket on my husband’s lap or in our bed. Every morning as I get up to go running, she starts yapping and barking at me. I think she is telling me, “be quiet, daddy’s asleep.” She and Rowdy are both getting older, and the gray hair is showing up in their black fur.Chance will sit in our yard for hours sniffing the air and monitoring his property. Every night he sleeps with our son, unless there is a thunderstorm. In that case he needs to be with my husband and me.Lucy, our newest edition, must have all the attention at all times. She is a blond bombshell, and she uses her nose to force you to pet her if she feels she isn’t getting the affection she deserves.At the office, we’ve been teasing Chuck about all the communing he’s been doing with his cats. If you look at his Facebook page, you’ll find pictures of his cats or his granddaughter. I thought I’d write a commentary about life with dogs. But the stroll down memory lane had the water-works flowing like the time I watched “Marley and Me,” or after I read “A Dog’s Journey.” Don’t let me fool you; I cry at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals commercials every time.Ironically, the day I began writing this story, as I was out for my morning run, I heard a cat crying and this tiny guy came running out of the woods towards me. I tried to run away, and it just ran with me. I bent down to pet him, and he kept following me. I picked him up and tried to put him back where he came from, but he wouldn’t have it. I was summarily adopted by a cat who we decided to keep and name Stitch, because I’m sure he will be a lot of trouble.I guess the difference between having dogs and having cats is that we adopt dogs, but cats adopt us. Dogs live to please us and cats demand we please them. Simba, the cat my brother gave me last summer (he was evidently too “bitey and too scratchy”) still hasn’t accepted Stitch, but I think he’s coming along.I basically live in a zoo. Thankfully, I have a dog door and a big fenced-in backyard. I have a soft spot for animals; dogs are my favorite, cats are a close second and even our bearded dragon Jeffery is endearing.If you are privileged enough to have an animal in your life treat them well. Keep their shots up-to-date; periodically sneak them extra treats; take them on long walks; scratch their bellies and behind their ears; let them sit on the furniture and love them the way they love you; and, as Bob Barker used to say, "help control the pet population — have your pets spayed or neutered."