COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eddie Broom got a new dog and plenty of advice last week.
The Blacklick, Ohio, resident and U.S. Army veteran welcomed a new family member, a female bulldog mix named Marley.
It was the 14th pairing of rescue dogs with veterans by the Delaware-based nonprofit organization Veteran Companion Animal Services (VCAS).
Broom, 36, held Marley’s leash in the parking lot of his condominium — and later inside — as he absorbed tips and observations from Marley’s foster family, VCAS staffers and a veterinarian.
She’s very nosy, he was told. Watch out, she’s a “ninja.” Give her this food, give her this medicine.
The soft-spoken Broom mostly just nodded and smiled as Marley sniffed her new surroundings.
“It might not seem like it, but I’m very excited,” he said.
Watching it all, Tom Lennon stood back and reflected on why, for the past two years, he has volunteered with VCAS.
Dogs help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression
Lennon, 72, is in the middle of three generations of veterans totaling 84 years of service. His father was a U.S. Navy aviator for 27 years, Lennon spent nearly 30 years on active duty in the Navy as a pilot and ship’s officer, and one of his sons has spent the past 27 years in the Army.
“Service runs in my veins,” he said simply.
And that’s why the Worthington, Ohio, resident is enthusiastic about VCAS. As the group’s patriot affairs lead, Lennon is a key point person between the group and the veteran who has applied for a companion dog.
Although it’s not a requirement in order to get a dog, VCAS founder Heather Lane said most veterans who apply for one have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Lennon helps throughout the whole process, including being there on the “adoption day” as he was with Broom, clearly excited to see what can be a months-long process come to fruition.
“They (the veterans) all have stories, dealing with PTSD and things, and I’ve seen these dogs bring them out of depression,” he said. “I’ve seen the dogs help calm them. So I see that and it just gives me a sense of fulfillment.”
In Broom’s case, he said he, “needed something to provide proper companionship for me.” He is going through a divorce, he said.
“I hope the dog brings me a sort of a permanent family.”
Columbus native Tom Lennon’s life of service
Lennon was born in Columbus but grew up a “military brat” attending 11 different schools across the country. He then attended Ohio State University and was a member of the school’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.
He became a pilot specializing in anti-submarine warfare, logging more than 5,000 flight hours and 700 landings on aircraft carriers. Lennon then transitioned to being an executive officer of the carrier USS Forrestal and commanding officer of the USS Trenton, an amphibious transport ship.
He returned to Columbus and directed Ohio State’s Naval ROTC program from 1997 to 2000, when his active-duty career ended.
But Lennon continued to serve, spending the next 18 years running the Junior ROTC program at Franklin Heights High School in South-Western City Schools.
In 2019, his wife Robin, a dog lover who once owned a dog-walking business, found out about VCAS and suggested Tom give it a try. She knew he needed structure and to keep serving somehow.
“He’s just a wonderful human being,” Robin said. “He has dedicated his whole life to serving. He’s the guy who wakes up in the morning and asks himself what he can do today to help other people? I mean, who does that?”
Lane said a big emphasis of the VCAS program is keeping up a connection between the group and the veterans that receive dogs.
Not only does that mean support financially — VCAS pays for a full year of food and veterinary care after each placement, at an average cost of about $3,000 — but it also means being responsive anytime veterans call.
And that’s where Lennon really shines.
“Whenever a veteran reaches out, they hear from Tom almost immediately,” Lane said. “If they have run into any issues, he is right there, taking the time and effort and energy to making it happen. He is always on it.”
Making a difference in a veteran’s life
That attentiveness has made a huge difference in John Grimm’s life. After serving from 2006 to 2014 in the Marine Corps — including two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — the 37-year-old Delaware resident said he struggled with PTSD, depression and alcohol.
He reached out to VCAS and several months ago received Basil, a black labrador mix. Basil has given him much-needed companionship, he said. He even modified the delivery truck he drives for a living so Basil can accompany him.
But he is perhaps even more appreciative of what Lennon has done for him. Grimm said Lennon has checked in with him regularly through the adoption process and beyond, offering to buy him lunch and just being there for him.
“He actually stopped me from being a statistic,” Grimm said, referring to an oft-cited number of 22 veterans who die by suicide daily. “I was going to be that. But talking to Tom, and him going above and beyond just, `Here’s a dog, have a good one,’ has really helped me.”
“He has shown me what brotherhood is like.”
Lennon’s wife said he provides that support for each veteran connected with VCAS, and that he often gets calls from one of them in need, “mostly early in the morning,” she said. Robin estimates he spends 20 to 30 hours a week in his role
The calls can be as mundane as the veteran needing more food or advice on dog care, or, as in Grimm’s case, it could be they need to talk about some of their personal troubles.
Humility keeps Lennon from patting himself on the back. For him, it’s just another way to continue to serve.
“Being a veteran, a lot of times it’s easier for them to talk to me,” he said. “It’s just been remarkably rewarding.”