One day last May at a South Carolina fire training facility, 34-year-old Rob Tackett posed for the Charleston Animal Society’s 2017 firefighter calendar — sexy and shirtless and holding Kimber, an adorable German Shepherd puppy.
“Her owner and his wife told me she wouldn’t go around any guys,” says Tackett, a firefighter with the Charleston Fire Department and “Mr. March” in the Charleston (South Carolina) Firefighter Calendar. “And when I first met her she curled up in my arms, it was an instant connection. She felt safe with me.”
He never dreamed he’d one day be her owner.
Tackett, an Army veteran, bonded with Kimber’s owner, Steve Hall, who had served three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan as an elite Marine sniper.
Hall had returned from his tour of duty suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, wracked with nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety, according to a video he made with the Charleston Animal Society.
Hall had found that the symptoms were only alleviated with the help of his dog, Scout, who died last December. After Scout’s death, Hall began to spiral downward, his flashbacks and anxiety returning, according to the video.
Meanwhile, as Hall was suffering, a malnourished puppy who was hairless from severe mange and a bacterial skin infection was found on the side of a road and brought to the Charleston Animal Society. As her hair grew back, it turns out that she was a German Shepherd puppy, and she was named Kimber.
Last winter, Hall adopted Kimber, who became his constant companion and helped ease his PTSD symptoms.
“He really needed that companionship,” Kristin Kifer of the Charleston Animal Society tells PEOPLE.
In the months after the calendar photo shoot, Hall and Tackett became good friends. But over the summer, Hall fell ill, requiring neck and back surgeries. Hall asked Tackett, a lifelong animal lover, to watch over Kimber during his hospital stay. And after a few weeks, with his health still shaky, Hall asked Tackett if he’d adopt Kimber.
“He was heartbroken,” recalls Tackett. “He said, ‘My health is not where I want it to be. We can’t take care of Kimber. I don’t want her going anywhere else.’ ”
Tackett didn’t hesitate.
“I love that dog,” he says. “She is an incredibly special dog, I’ve never been around a dog like her. Just being around her makes everything easier.”
Kimber, now 13 months and 45 pounds, has been with Tackett since October.
“She keeps me happy,” says Tackett.
Kimber is a certified PTSD dog, and Tackett hopes that with a bit more training he’ll bring her to visit other veterans and share the joy she emanates.
“She’s skittish around other people at first,” says Tackett, attributing it to Kimber’s past abuse as a puppy. “But when she gets comfortable she is the most loving dog in the world.”
All proceeds from the calendar go to the Charleston Animal Society’s medical fund, which saves thousands of abused, neglected and abandoned animals every year, like Kimber.