Laila was a down on her luck dog in a New Jersey shelter, but she still had important lessons to share with the Navy veteran who gave her a second chance at life.
Navy an opportunity for self improvement
Clarke served in the Navy from 1994-1997, during which time he was often at sea. Like many recruits, he saw military service as a way to improve himself.
“I chose to enter the military to make a positive difference in my life,” Clarke recalls.
The Navy veteran was stationed on the USS Nimitz and completed two tours in the Persian Gulf, including deployment as part of Operation Southern Watch. One of his favorite memories from his service is when the ship performed a display of power for the King and Prince of Jordan.
Now firmly on land, Clarke lives with his wife and four young children in New Jersey. Though currently unemployed, he’s attending school to become an EEG technologist and make a better life for his growing family.
Little did he know that a decision he made in November, 2013 would have such big – and positive – consequences, for himself and everyone in his household.
When Clarke decided to adopt a companion pet, he had three excellent reasons.
“I was looking for a companion,” Clarke says of his decision, adding, “I was looking to teach my children responsibility and to give them a sense of security.”
At the same time, a three year-old Boxer/Bulldog mix was in the care of the Monmouth County SPCA, having been abandoned along with one of her puppies. As a large, adult dog, she was one of the millions of hard-to-adopt pets entering shelters around the country each year. However, it was just these qualities made her eligible for adoption through the shelter’s partnership with Pets for Patriots.
“I learned about the program through the internet,” Clarke says. “My shelter that I was going to visit participated in the program.”
Pets for Patriots inspires veterans and military personnel in its program to adopt the most overlooked shelter animals – adult and special needs dogs and cats, and large breed dogs – and in exchange offers these veterans various financial benefits to help make pet ownership affordable over the life of the pet.
The charity’s mission resonated with Clarke, and helped him consider a pet he might have otherwise overlooked.
“I feel that the program opened my eyes to adopt an older dog that I may not have thought about doing,” he says.
Me and my big shadow
Laila’s past is something of a mystery, but what is known is that the dog – who was three years-old at the time she entered the shelter - was abandoned along with one of her puppies. Clarke describes her as having been “still somewhat emaciated” when adopted, but after months in a stable, loving home, she is a healthy and happy dog.
Laila is particularly attached to Clarke, which he enjoys.
“She will follow me around the house and outside. I often find that if I stop short,” he says, “she tends to bump into me.”
Besides being a faithful shadow to her Navy veteran, Laila has helped Clarke reestablish a more regular exercise routine, which helps him both physically and mentally.
“She has given me inspiration to get more exercise,” he says. “I take her in the yard to play and will take her on walks. For me, this is great, since I am not working I have not been getting the exercise that I was getting. She gives me the push to exercise.”
Her loyalty to Clarke doesn’t stop Laila from tending to the other members of her new family, particularly the children, where her maternal instincts are on full display.
“She is great with my children,” Clark beams. “She is very sweet. She will play with my children in the yard. I have noticed recently, that when I have a sick child, she tends to be close to the child and will sleep near the child.”
Giving back to veterans
Clarke feels fortunate to have adopted his best friend through Pets for Patriots and its partnership with Monmouth County Humane Society, and encourages other veterans considering pet adoption to see if there are partnerships in their communities.
“The program is wonderful,” he says. “If you are lucky to be near an adoption center and a [participating] veterinarian, the benefits are great. The discounts and support are wonderful.”
The Navy veteran appreciates that the program is designed exclusively for veterans and military personnel.
“It is nice when you find a program that gives back to the veterans,” he explains. “It is nicer when it is veterans giving back to veterans.”
In the end, Laila found the life she deserves. And in the process of saving her, Clarke and his family learned something about themselves, and about life.
“She is a perfect match to our family.”