Pets For Patriots Blog Veterans With Pets Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:14:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Adopted dog helps Marine Corps veteran adjust to post-military life Mon, 13 Apr 2015 19:08:13 +0000 While many people choose to adopt a dog or cat to make that animal’s life better, one Marine transitioning out of the military learned that it is equally true in reverse. He found a stellar Shepherd mix who “makes every day better” for him as he copes with the realities of his post-military life.

For love of country

In 2009, Ryan joined the Marines. The next five years of his life as an infantryman brought him far from his Wisconsin roots, as he relocated from coast to coast during his time in service. Ryan and Maximus

“I entered the military to serve this country and because it was something that I always wanted to do,” he says.

For the first three years of his military service, Ryan was stationed in Thurmont, Maryland and spent his last two years in Pendleton, California with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Of his many experiences the most memorable were the more than two years he served “at Camp David and the guys in 2nd Platoon.”

Now separated from service, the Marine veteran lives with his fiancée in Chicago and is currently pursuing a degree in exercise science.

A man and his dog

Shortly after leaving the military Ryan felt that something was missing. Although he is busy attending school and planning his upcoming wedding, there was nonetheless a sense that his life was not complete.

“I have always wanted to have a dog of my own,” Ryan says, “and even though my family had a dog while I was growing up, it was actually my sister’s dog.”

 Like many people looking to adopt a pet Ryan started his search online, where he came across Pets for Patriots. It was his first introduction to the nationally operating charity that helps military veterans adopt the most overlooked homeless dogs and cats, enhancing – and often saving – two lives in the process.

“I looked into it,” the Marine veteran says, “and saw that they supported in helping vets not only find a pet, but help with initial costs too.”  Ryan fiancee and Maximus

Ryan applied to the program, was approved quickly and almost immediately found Red, a large Shepherd mix with  a rich auburn coat. The big dog was in the care of the the The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, one of hundreds of Pets for Patriots partner shelters around the country. The shelter extends a 10% adoption fee discount to veterans in the program, who receive additional benefits through Pets for Patriots – such as help with pet food and veterinary care.

In August, 2014 Ryan adopted Red. The now ex-shelter dog went home to his new life and to a new name: Maximus. 

“He makes everyday better”

In just the first few weeks since his adoption Maximus began to take full advantage of the second chance that Ryan has given him, but he is not the only one who has been changed for the better. By helping his new battle buddy adjust to life in a real and loving home, Ryan is integrating more easily into his new life as a civilian.

The Marine veteran marvels at how Maximus has grown.

“He is finally not afraid of getting into vehicles,” Ryan observes, “and goes through bones as though it is his job!” 

As the months ticked on and Maximus gained confidence that he was truly part of the family, he has shown himself to be at ease with other dogs and new people, too.  One of the things the Marine veteran loves most is watching Maximus play in the snow with total abandon. Ryan and Maximus

“I think he is finally comfortable with everything,” says Ryan, “and [I] can’t wait for what the years bring with Maximus.”

While the big red dog is grateful for a forever, loving home, Ryan appreciates how Pets for Patriots is changing lives – including his own.

“This is a great organization,” he says, “that is truly there to help a veteran with finding the pet that will help change their lives for the better.”

In this way and so many others, Maximus delivers.

“He makes everyday better with the antics that he provides us on a daily basis.” 

Are you or do you know a veteran transitioning to civilian life? Find out how a companion pet can help.

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Once-stray dog helps Air Force veteran cope with loss of “perfect dance partner” Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:00:06 +0000 It is not often that you get to choose your own family, but that’s exactly how it happened for an Air Force veteran and a once-stray dog who are helping each other move beyond their sad pasts.

Although Daniel has many friends in Michigan, he has no family apart from the four-legged kind he has chosen to rescue over the years. Having recently suffered the death of his beloved Sheltie dog, Peanut, the Air Force veteran was ravaged with grief. Peanut RIP 2 (Daniel)_400

“Peanut was my perfect dance partner and the prettiest thing that I could call my own,” he says. “When she died I was wrecked.”

Aiming higher

In 1969 Daniel enlisted in the United States Air Force and completed his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He remembers vividly “the hot days and cold nights in January and February” before he received advanced training in radio relay equipment repair. Memorable weather followed him to his next duty station as well; Hurricane Camille made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that August.

During Daniel’s military service he completed Technical Instructor School and was assigned to basic electronics instructor duty. Three years of teaching electronics in the Air Force prepared him for a higher degree in electrical engineering, and he now does contract work as an electrical engineer.

Life imitates art for a Blackmouth Cur

Daniel felt a strong emotional void after Peanut died.

The Air Force veteran started looking for a new four-legged companion at the Michigan Humane Society, where he learned about their partnership with Pets for Patriots and its mission to make companion pet adoption more affordable, and therefore more accessible, for veterans and military personnel. Daniel’s motivations to adopt another pet were compelling.

“[To] fill the emotional void after the death of my Sheltie, Peanut.”

Through the partnership, Daniel received a deeply discounted adoption fee and ongoing discounted veterinary care through the Michigan Humane Society. In addition, Pets for Patriots supplied a generous contribution towards ‘welcome home’ pet food and essentials, in addition to other benefits for saving a program-eligible petDaniel and Edison_400

In September 2014, Daniel honorably adopted Edison, a one-and-a-half year-old Blackmouth Cur – the same type of dog in the famous movie classic, Old Yeller.

Like the dog in the movie, Edison had been living as a stray.

The big dog with the rich chestnut-colored coat was heartworm-positive at the time of his adoption, likely owing to having no one to care for him and provide even the most basic veterinary care. Despite his loveless past, however, Edison is thriving.

“He has had a tough start in life as a stray and many health problems, but is so appreciative,” says Daniel, “and his health is great now.” 

Consistent with his breed, Edison is a quick study.

“He does respond to training and wants to please,” the Air Force veteran beams. “It is pleasurable to watch him change.”

The savior and the saved

Life on the streets for any domesticated animal is not an easy one, and many die as a result of starvation, accidents or deliberate acts of cruelty. Edison is one of the lucky ones; he got the chance to put his hard-luck life behind him. As it happens, his adopter was able to move on as well.

“Edison and I rescued each other,” Daniel says – and not only in regards to his loneliness after losing Peanut.

“Edison is very handsome, very exuberant and willful, very affectionate,” says the Air Force veteran, adding, “and un-replaceable.”

Whereas Peanut was “the perfect dance partner,” Edison has quickly become an important source of exercise and socialization for his Air Force companion.

“I get exercise walking and engaging with him,” says Daniel, noting that “Edison enhances my social life as I meet other pet owners when [we are] outdoors.” Edison (Daniel)_400

The two sleep together every night, and Daniel brushes or massages Edison every morning. The once-stray dog with the Hollywood name has earned an even more meaningful moniker: “constant companion.”

A promise made, a promise kept

The possibility that Edison might outlive Daniel is not lost on the Air Force veteran, though his own health has improved with the daily exercise his new charge demands.

“I would not like to leave him alone,” says Daniel. “He has had enough hardships in his short life and I’ll make sure his last hardship was indeed his last one.”

Daniel takes the responsibility of companion pet adoption seriously – and advocates for others to adopt since “the benefits for both the adopter and animal are immeasurable.”

The veteran realizes that many hard-luck dogs and cats never get the second chance at life that they deserve, and appreciates how the Michigan Humane Society cared for Edison “until we found each other.” He is equally appreciative of Pets for Patriots “for making it easier to adopt him,” and adds the encouragement to “keep up the good work.”

Most of all, Daniel has been able to honor his memories with Peanut while creating new ones with Edison, and sees the relationship as one of mutual giving.

 “Choose to help an animal live a good life,” he says, “and this act returns the same gift to you.”

If you are or know a veteran who would benefit from companion pet adoption, learn more here.

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Bronze Star veteran shines with four-legged battle buddy by his side Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:03:06 +0000 After three combat tours in Iraq, a Bronze Star Army veteran becomes a hero of a different stripe: to an adult dog who would become his new battle buddy as he transitioned to civilian life.

Inspired to service by Vietnam War POW

During nearly a decade of service, Chris traveled the world. Originally from Oklahoma, the young Army veteran started his military career at Fort Carson, Colorado with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division (ID). Over the years he would deploy to the Middle East,  and serve in more than a dozen countries around the globe before finishing his career stateside.

“I completed three combat deployments to Iraq with the 4th ID,” Chris says, “and became a Bronze Star recipient in 2008.”

Chris and Darla

Chris saw the world while serving in the Army, but the inspiration to serve came from a place much closer to his home – and his heart.

“My grandfather was a Vietnam veteran and POW (Prisoner of War),” Chris says. “He was one of the smartest men I knew, my best friend and my hero, so naturally I wanted to follow his footsteps.” 

In July 2011, Chris accepted a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to MacDill Air Force Base (AFB) in Tampa, Florida, where he finished his military career by working in Protective Services for the United States Central Command (CENTCOM).

Pizza, pepperoni and pals

There is little doubt that Chris’ years of service, including three combat tours to Iraq, provided many memorable experiences. Despite enduring the brutality of war, the Army veteran chooses to remember a more comical moment of his nearly ten-year military career.

Chris and three coworkers were passing through Istanbul, Turkey. Their flight was not until the following morning, so they stayed overnight in the city at a hotel within the government rates. The brochure made the hotel look appealing enough, but that was where the appeal ended. 

“Once we arrived we thought it was Halloween because this place was dark, creepy, and I was ready for a ghoul to jump out at me,” Chris recalls. “The rooms were unbelievably small, I didn’t have a toilet seat, and my friend Brian’s room didn’t have electricity!”

Undaunted, the foursome walked down the street to a local Domino’s pizza for a small taste of home. Not surprisingly, none of the employees spoke English, so Chris simply pointed to a picture of a pepperoni pizza on the menu.

“Sure enough, they were pepperoni…with mushrooms and corn!” he says. “We did our best to not complain, and ate since we were starving.”

In the end, the Army veteran admits the pizza was not too bad, despite the “unorthodox toppings.”

“We went back to our hotel and tried to get some sleep,” Chris says, “with our shoes on. We still laugh to this day about that pizza and hotel.”

In for a cat, out with a dog

Now separated from service, Chris lives in Florida and is often home alone. He longs for companionship, especially since his girlfriend Veronica lives and works in Colorado as a registered nurse, and he no longer travels for his job.

“I have always wanted my own dog,” Chris says. “Growing up, we always had cats. And living alone here in Florida and my constant traveling for work made it very difficult for me to consider adopting.”

One day when Veronica was in town for a visit, the couple decided to go to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay – just to “browse.”

“Originally, we were planning on getting a cat,” says Chris, “but when we passed through the kennel with the small dogs, we absolutely fell in love with Darla when she yelped at us to come see her. She was adorable and was very distressed about being in there. I set up a meet with her in their yard and she was extremely affectionate and friendly. We knew just then that we were going to take her home.” Chris and Darla 2

At the time, Darla was a five year-old Pug and Beagle mix, often called a Puggle. She was surrendered by her previous family because they were unable to support her financially.

“Darla is such a great dog,” Chris says. “It makes me happy that they gave her to a no-kill shelter, rather than just abandoning her on the streets. I am extremely grateful I had the courage to adopt her.”

Chris noted that Darla was very well trained, and he “hopes for the best” for her previous family.

While at the shelter, the Army veteran learned about their partnership with Pets for Patriots, which helps veterans and military personnel adopt adult and special needs pets, and large breed dogs – and provides a range of benefits to make pet parenthood more affordable on an ongoing basis.

“I immediately applied that same day,” he says. “It is a great program and I encourage all veterans to consider using Pets for Patriots. Not only do you receive a few helpful benefits from the program, but when you adopt from a shelter, you are saving a life!”

Bronze Star veteran and his battle buddy

“Living alone can be very boring, and at times can really make stressful times even worse,” Chris shares, “since no one is around to talk to, or help me keep my mind distracted.”

Life is no longer lonely or boring for the Bronze Star veteran.

“Knowing Darla is at home waiting for me to walk through that door is exciting for me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for twenty minutes or four hours,” he says. “She always greets me as if she hasn’t seen me in years!”

Like many veterans, Chris misses the camaraderie and closeness of his fellow soldiers, but Darla has become something of a four-legged battle buddy for the decorated veteran. For her part, the little dog has taken well to her new life, including ditching her own bed to sleep under the blankets with Chris.

“She refuses to sleep in her own bed,” he says. “It’s very funny to see her jump on the bed and use her nose to push the blankets over her so she can burrow underneath. Even if I make her sleep in her own bed, she will somehow jump up on my own bed without me knowing, and sneak under the covers.”

Soon Darla may have to share the covers with Veronica, since she and Chris are moving soon to Denver so that they can finally all be together. Once there, Chris will pursue a new challenge in the civilian world.

“My passion is snowboarding and shooting guns,” Chris says.  “And I hope to one day open my own bar and grill.”

Whatever the young Army veteran decides to do, Darla will have his back.

“The loyalty and affection she gives me can make any day so much better,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how mad, irritated or stressed out I am, because once I walk through that door she makes everything go away and helps me to relax. She helps me keep my head up.”

]]> 0 Healing at both ends of the leash for disabled veteran and special needs dog Mon, 16 Mar 2015 15:48:18 +0000 Dewey is a disabled Vietnam veteran who came to the realization that he “needed a therapy dog to help fight depression.” At the same time he had a strong desire to help a dog in need, so he returned to the Michigan Humane Society where he and his wife had previously adopted companion pets.

“I knew at the “Michigan Humane Society there was a dog that needed the therapy of a home and love,” Dewey says.

As it turns out that dog was Lizbeth: a 30-pound, nearly purebred Beagle with loving brown eyes. Lizbeth (Dewey)_400

The Vietnam veteran’s first encounter with Lizbeth was nothing short of “love at first sight,” despite the young dog’s special needs. In addition to needing care for recurring urinary tract infections Lizbeth was obese, and subject to severe arthritis and back problems that are seen frequently in overweight Beagles.

In only two months since adopting his new companion, Dewey is proud to report that Lizbeth slimmed down to her target weight and has not had another urinary infection. However, both problems require his continued vigilance and care.

Experiencing Vietnam

Dewey served in the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam. The unit was considered an important wartime innovation for its use of helicopters to move and position light infantry across the battlefield. Reflecting on his service, the now disabled veteran believes it gave him the opportunity to fight for his country and experience life in a foreign nation.

Upon returning home Dewey was able to earn both Masters and Specialist degrees in Special Education through the G.I. Bill.

Of squirrels, cuddles and football

All the animals that Dewey and his wife have welcomed into their home over the years have been adopted through the Michigan Humane Society Rochester Hills location, so the decision to return there in search of a new dog was a natural one. The shelter offers a generous adoption fee discount and ongoing, reduced cost veterinary care to all veterans who adopt through its partnership with Pets for Patriots, while Pets for Patriots provides generous benefits to veterans like Dewey once they adopt a program eligible dog or cat.

Lizbeth – or “Beth” as she is affectionately nicknamed – now lives a very different life. She spends her days cuddling and watching football with Dewey, and bringing her toys to him when she wants to play. She especially loves it when he throws a ball for her to fetch, but only as long as she gets a treat in exchange.

Although Beth enjoys lazing about the house, all that changes when she and Dewey go out for a walk. The adopted dog is then officially on squirrel patrol.

“[She has] pulled her 240-pound master to the ground twice while rearing up on her back feet and struggling to get that doggone squirrel,” says Dewey.

On one occasion Beth broke free and Dewey had to dive to catch her leash. He is now working with her to stop her neighborhood squirrel obsession – or at least to make it more manageable for Dewey. The Beagle has been known to “exhaust herself” barking at the squirrels she can see through the window in her room. As it happens, Beth’s twin obsession is treats – which Dewey uses judiciously to guide her to do his bidding, such as when he needs to lure her back into the house after an episode of squirrel watching.

“I buy the long treats and cut them down to short pieces,” he explains, “and gladly she runs to me. I grab her leash and gleefully we go into the house.” 

Caring for Beth has given Dewey a renewed sense of purpose, and has helped alleviate his nagging depression. The disabled veteran sees the dog’s health issues – her propensity for urinary tract infections and ongoing battle with her weight – as worthy of every special effort. In the end, Dewey understands what is most important to his newfound friend: “giving back love while receiving love.”

Learn more about what makes special needs pets so special here.

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Dog left to die in drain pipe adopted by Navy veteran who knows pain of abandonment Tue, 10 Mar 2015 16:29:14 +0000 Willow was a terrified terrier dog who was found living in a drain pipe with her three puppies, one of whom froze to death. She was ultimately rescued and adopted by a Navy veteran who still grapples with the pain of his own abandonment many decades ago. Jim and Willow

Feeling their pain

After more than 30 years of service in the Navy and a long career in civilian law enforcement, James is enjoying a well-deserved retirement in the North Carolina mountains. The Vietnam veteran holds an Extra Class License for ham radio and runs his own radio network named “The County Cousins.”

James’ real passion, however,  is saving abandoned animals – or “critters” as he likes to call them.

“It seems to be quite common to toss out unwanted animals in the Smoky Mountains,” James says.  

As it happens, James knows what it is like to feel unwanted.

“I joined the United States Navy at the age of 17 because I had no family,” he shares. “The Navy became my family.”

For James, a deep reservoir of empathy motivates him to save the lives of animals discarded by others, who have found themselves homeless through no fault of their own.

A hard life at home, a new life at sea

James did not have an easy life. He first left home at age 16 because his parents could no longer support him; his father had heart failure and his mother was seriously ill. The teen quickly realized that life on the streets was rough and joined the National Guard, but left after six months when he realized he would not be able to get an education with them. Mara and Willow

The young man came home and did odd jobs for another several months, but none were enough to support him. James enlisted in the Navy, through which he earned his high school degree. In his later years he earned a college degree in criminal justice, paving the way for a post-military career in law enforcement.

During his 30-year Navy career – which included 24 years in active duty and the remainder in the Reserves – James traveled the world. He served on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, at home and abroad,  was stationed on destroyers, tenders, at sea and on shore, where he was in charge of hull repairs on ships.  

James later repaired submarines, leading to one of the more memorable experiences of his military career.  Serving with Submarine Group 5 on the USS Dixon gave him the opportunity to inspect nuclear powered submarines and submarine tenders.

In fact, James wrote the epilogue to The Tooth and the Tail, an oral history of American Support Troops during the Vietnam War.

Giving hope to the hopeless

To this very day and despite the decades that have passed since he left home, James’ feelings of abandonment run deep. Yet the Navy veteran is finding ways to channel those feelings by giving the most hopeless and helpless animals a loving home.

“To give a critter a chance at life,” he says, “for I know what it feels [like] to be abandoned and be hungry. That is why I joined the Navy.”  

These days the Vietnam veteran’s family includes Mara, whom he refers to as his “lady friend,” and her two rescued dogs, Dora and Mollie. When four of James’ own rescued pets died of old age, he knew it was time to adopt another dog.

“I needed to fill the void.” 

From freezing in a drain pipe to a pup with purpose

James visited a local animal welfare organization, Logan’s Run Rescue. There he learned about their partnership with Pets for Patriots, which inspires veterans to adopt the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats in exchange for a range of benefits to make pet parenthood more affordable. Jim Willow and the pack

Through the rescue James met Willow, a then two year-old Jack Russell Terrier. She had been badly abused and left to die in a culvert with her puppies. Although their life circumstances were different, Willow’s story struck a nerve with the Vietnam veteran.

“Willow sort of reminds me of myself when I first retired from the Navy,” James recalls. “Frightened and unsure of myself.”

The Navy veteran was “going to save this animal one way or another,” and he quickly saw that Willow was going to need all of the love and devotion he and Mara could give her.  James adopted Willow without hesitation, knowing from his own experiences that it would take a long time for the adult dog overcome her sad start in life. 

Of love, toast and sausage

Willow’s homecoming has not been without its challenges.

The little dog’s prior neglect and likely abuse – she is terrified of men and loud noises – was at first “a nightmare” for James, who wanted nothing more than to shower his newest family member with love. Willow and Dora

Willow refused to eat at first, and had to be hand fed. She eventually learned to take walks with the other two dogs in the family and is especially fond of Dora, their big yellow lab.

“Her favorite places are sitting on the couch with us watching TV and snuggling in bed with us at night,” says James, noting that her newest love is riding in the front seat of his Mustang.

To this day Willow still trembles, which James suspects may be some residual nerve damage as a result of whatever was done to her. But adopting the once-abandoned dog has enriched the Navy veteran’s life – even as he gives her the life she deserves and was once denied.

“She has given me a purpose,” he says.

They say time – and love – heal all wounds, and the latter will never be in short supply again for Willow.

“She’s definitely loved in this house,” says James. “Seeing her gradually come out of her shell is very rewarding. You can’t help but fall in love with her.” 

Even Mara’s two dogs, both previous victims of abuse as well, have taken to Willow to varying degrees. Dora is her “best friend” and Molly “tolerates her,” but James observes that “in the end they are one happy group.”

Willow has come a long way from the day she was found nearly freezing to death in a North Carolina drain pipe. 

“We have a morning ritual at breakfast,” James says, “everyone has toast and sausage.”

James found a way to turn his hard luck years into a productive and noble life, serving his country and saving the lives of unwanted critters in his community. 

“It gives me a good feeling to know I’ve done something good,” he says, “[that I] have saved an animal.”

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Pets for Patriots and Dogs On Deployment team up to win Hero Dog Awards Mon, 09 Mar 2015 05:05:24 +0000 Pets for Patriots and our friends at Dogs On Deployment (DoD) are proud to have been selected as charity partners in The American Humane Association’s Annual Hero Dog Awards, which honors the “often ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things” in eight distinct categories.

Bram, a 2013 DoD Military Pet Of The Year (MPOTY), has been nominated in the Emerging Hero category and has chosen Pets for Patriots as his charity partner. Bram 2_400

We are so honored that Bram has chosen to represent our life-saving program that helps veterans adopt the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats for mutual love and healing. Our vision is to ultimately end animal homelessness while at the same time enriching the lives of our veterans and their families.

Midas is a 2014 DoD MPOTY, and has been nominated in the Service Dog Category for all of his notable accomplishments working with veterans and service dog training through the Midas Cares program.  He has chosen Dogs On Deployment as his charity partner. The organization provides deployment and hardship boarding for members of the military so that upon their return home they can be reunited with their beloved pets.

Photo courtesy of DoD and Blue Amrich Studio

Photo courtesy of DoD and Blue Amrich Studio

Dogs On Deployment is one of our longstanding partners and we are proud to stand paw-to-paw with them in the Hero Dog Awards.

Both dogs, if they win in their respective categories, can use their new positions as platforms to support animal-related causes that are important to the causes they represent. Each category’s winner gets a $2,500 cash prize for the charitable partner of their choice and – if they are a finalist for the $5,000 grand prize – can win a total of $7,500 for their chosen charity.

We need your help to make sure that our favorite dogs win in their respective categories!

The first round of voting will determine the semi-finalists; voting is open from March 9th and runs through May 15th. You can cast one vote per category each day. Please click the images below to vote for both Midas and Bram to make it to the semi-finals for Hero Dogs of the Year!

vote for bram
vote for midas







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Iraq veteran adopts ‘Lucky’ canine companion to heal her war wounds Tue, 03 Mar 2015 14:26:28 +0000 Star came from a military family and felt called to serve. But when the Iraq war veteran found herself gripped with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other trauma, it was an adopted companion dog – aptly named Lucky – who helped her cope with the wounds of war.

“I never got back to being myself”

Star grew up as a military brat. 

“My entire family is military. It’s all I’ve known my entire life,” she explains.

Enlisting in the Army right after high school and ROTC seem like the right choice. Yet Star found the experience to be overwhelming and was discharged just a few months later.

“It was maybe too soon. It was too much for me to handle,” she says. “I couldn’t deal with it.”

Many different jobs followed. Star was a teacher, bank teller, waitress, and bartender, but did not find satisfaction in any of those roles. In spite of her earlier experience, the desire to serve in the armed forces was unrelenting.

About five years later, Star fulfilled her dreams. She re-enlisted, completed basic training at Fort Jackson and was sent to her first duty station at Fort Drum in New York. Star and Lucky with family_400

Although Star was originally trained as a financial management specialist, she decided to change her Military Occupation Specialty (MOS); she wanted to be a combat medic. She was deployed to Iraq after receiving her training at both Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and Fort Irwin in California.

“It was my first deployment,” she recalls. “I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.” 

Still, the Army veteran considers herself fortunate. 

“I went on lots of missions that required convoys,” Star says. “We were only hit three times with IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices], which was pretty good. We were pretty lucky.” 

However, Star did not leave the war zone unscathed. 

“Some instances happened that caused me to go into a shell. I wasn’t able to come back from what was happening,” she says. 

The combat medic sought out available assistance, but did not find it to be very helpful. 

“I had to talk to a therapist in Iraq. The therapist was part of my unit, and it was supposed to be confidential, but it was not,” she says. “Everyone wound up knowing my business and what was going on.” 

Things got progressively worse from there, but Star knew she had to keep herself together for the remainder of her deployment. She never felt completely normal and even though she knew something was wrong, she did not believe anything could help her.

There came a time, however, when Star knew she could no longer avoid seeking help.

After transferring to Hawaii for a few years, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia, Star was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In addition she suffered with severe anxiety – a symptom of her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – and back pain from an injury she incurred during deployment that never healed correctly. 

“I didn’t want to get out, but because I had so many issues,” she says, “[but] I didn’t have a choice. They said, ‘It’s not benefiting you or the Army for you to stay in.’” 

In 2013 after serving for nearly 10 years, Star was medically retired from the Army.

People and pets deserve a second chance

Star longed for any respite from her anxiety and claustrophobia, and eventually decided that a companion pet might help her. 

“I wanted to feel comfortable at home when I am by myself,” she says.

Star was researching various programs online when she discovered Pets for Patriots, a nationally operating charity that helps veterans adopt companion dogs and cats. She read the testimonials and stories of veterans who had adopted through the program, and liked how Pets for Patriots did not push itself on people. 

“[They are] not concerned with getting their name out there [or] popularity,” she says, which for her made the organization “the obvious choice.”

Like many veterans who adopt their pets through Pets for Patriots, Star was determined to find a shelter pet, not an animal from a backyard breeder or puppy mill. It upsets her that many people have negative associations with shelter animals despite the fact that pets find themselves homeless through no fault of their own.

“I look at them just like us,” she says. “They’ve gone through stuff like us; they should be given a chance just like us.”

In many ways Stars’ healing began when she gave a second chance to a then four year-old black Lab mix in the care of Prince George’s County Animal Management Division. The municipal shelter partners with Pets for Patriots to help veterans adopt the most overlooked companion animals, and waives pet adoption fees for veterans approved into the program.

“Lucky was in a corner cage,” Star remembers. “He came up and sat. He immediately put his paw out. He came out of the cage and sat with us. It just clicked. It was instantaneous; I didn’t have to think.” 

The very next day, Star and her family brought Lucky home.

No place like home

Lucky took his place as a member of the family easily.

“He just fit in,” says Star. “He was not scared to come to us or interact. He said, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m yours. Come get me.’” 

The big dog’s mellow demeanor led Star to believe that he could handle her issues as well as a house full of kids. 

“There was no question in my mind that he was the dog we needed,” Star says with confidence. “And he was really cute, too.”

Now when Star feels depressed, Lucky lays under her feet until she feels better and can get up. 

“He keeps me calm,” she says. “He keeps me from feeling anxious. If I call, he’s right there. He meets me at the door when I go out. When I feel like there’s no hope, he helps me to feel better, not down.”

Although Lucky is helping Star overcome her war wounds, she recognizes that healing takes time. As she begins to see the positive changes in her life and those of her children, she’s feeling more and more at peace.

“Slowly but surely I am becoming more comfortable, less threatened by the outside environment,” she shares, “but it is still a work in progress. I am more comfortable when in the house, not anxious and scared when alone. When he’s with me I don’t feel like there’s a threat.”

Lucky’s calming presence is not felt by Star alone, but by the whole household. He can tell when one of the children is upset, and will approach them, nudging with his nose. 

“He’s been positive for us,” says the Army veteran.

Hope and gratitude

Star describes her experience with Pets for Patriots as nothing short of “awesome.” Pets for Patriots was quick to answer emails and return phone calls, and provided her with a lot of information – especially during a brief period when she was less convinced that Lucky was the perfect fit. 

“I would definitely recommend them,” she says. “They are very professional. [They] care about pets and you, too.”

The Army veteran believes that Lucky and Pets for Patriots helped her regain her family life, her social life and even her sanity.

“I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing without them,” Star says. “I will always remember what they did for me. I can’t thank them enough.”

Above all, adopting Lucky has given Star something that has eluded her for far too long: hope.

“I have a friend to feel safe with,” she says, “[but] the biggest thing of all – I have my hope back.”

Are you or do you know a veteran who would benefit from a companion pet? Learn more about our program here.

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Air Force veteran saves neglected old dog to give her the life she deserves Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:43:59 +0000 It’s a story with a sad refrain: a neglected old dog (or old cat) sits alone in a shelter, hoping for a second chance at life. For one such dog in a rural Tennessee community, that second chance came in the form of a retired Air Force veteran and longtime animal lover.

In the company of dogs

Growing up on a farm in a small town in Pennsylvania, Zelva – who likes to be called Zee – always had a strong connection with animals.

“They have been a comfort to me most of my life,” she says.

Long after her retirement from the military, Zee finally had time to volunteer and dedicate her life to animals in need. She started by walking dogs at her local shelter; two days a week quickly turned to five. Eventually she found herself working the front desk, at the surgery center, and helping with adoption and vetting. Although a full-time employee now fulfills most of these responsibilities, Zee simply found other ways to help. Zee and Shelley and shelter team_Fotor

“I go every Saturday and do medications for all of the animals,” she says. “I still teach a class once a month and do events.”

The Air Force veteran found new channels for her passion and now serves as Vice President of the Smokey Mountain Animal Care Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Blount County Animal Shelter. In this capacity, Zee gives new volunteer orientations, and serves as the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base liaison for non-commissioned officers performing community service at the shelter.

“They come in flights,” she says, “maybe have 15 people, show up for about four hours [to volunteer] about every six weeks or so.”

Zee’s love of animals was not always so well received. She smiles when she thinks about the one time during her long military career when she got in trouble.

“I got lectured by my commander for taking dogs home to the barracks,” she recalls. “My roommate came home one night and there was an Irish Setter in the room, and she got mad at me.”

Neglected old dog loses her way

Shelley was rescued from a dog trap set by animal control officers to catch wild dogs.

It was immediately apparent that the old dog was not wild, but an abandoned, severely neglected pet. The Shepherd-Lab mix was in pretty bad shape when the officers took her to the Blount County Animal Shelter for care. She had arthritis, thyroid problems, hip dysplasia, rotten teeth, untrimmed nails and to top it all off, she was heartworm positive.

Zee believes that at one time in her life, Shelley had a family.

“Shelley, I think, wandered off,” she says. “Someone probably had her for years and years. We have some country folk around here that just don’t look at dogs the same way I do. They are an extension of my family.”

The shelter staff estimated Shelley to be about 12 years old. During her otherwise unremarkable stay there a couple adopted her, only to return her three days later.

“She got really depressed,” Zee remembers. “I took her home with my other dogs where she had company, and to get her out of the shelter…The family that brought her back said it was because she chased cats, but she doesn’t.”

Blazing a trail for other female veterans

Zee came from a small town where jobs were scarce. She knew that higher education was the ticket to a better life, but her options were limited after her father passed away when she was young.

Then there was an uncle. He was in the special forces, and Zee always admired his travels and adventures. She decided that a military career would allow her to serve her country while creating a better future for herself.

“For years,” Zee says, “I think I was the first female in my high school to join the military.”

Zee started her long career in the Women’s Army Corps in 1972, working in personnel and then as a Military Police Officer. She spent a short time in the Air National Guard, and served the remainder of her career in active duty Air Force in law enforcement and administration. During her years with the Guard, she worked full-time in civilian law enforcement. 

Photo: Mark A. Large, The Daily Times

Photo: Mark A. Large, The Daily Times

“I enjoyed police work,” she says. “My last year in the military, I was also a reserve [Sheriff’s] Deputy with the local county.”

Looking back on her 27-year military career, the dual Army-Air Force veteran realizes that she was a trailblazer for other female veterans.

“When I joined the Army women weren’t allowed to be military police,” she says. “August of 1973 I signed into the Military Police Corps and trained in Germany as one of the first female MP Officers. Three years in the Army and I was only issued skirts, not pants. And I had to do police work in a skirt!”

In August 2001, Zee retired after 27 years of dedicated service to our nation. She tried to re-enlist after 9/11, but her request was denied due to a lack of need in her military career field. With her children grown and with free time for the first time in her life, Zee started volunteering at her local animal shelter.

An old dog is finally at home

Zee first became acquainted with Shelley when the old dog was featured in a story about the Blount County Animal Shelter’s new partnership with Pets for Patriots, a nationally operating companion pet adoption program for United States military veterans. The Air Force veteran was instrumental in bringing the program to Blount County, and serves as its program manager at the shelter.

Everyone thought that featuring Shelly’s plight would be a great way to introduce the community to their new partnership and, at the same time, find a veteran who might adopt this sweet yet unwanted dog. But with no response to the article, Zee could sense that being at the shelter was taking its toll on the old dog.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Shelley officially joined the rest of Zee’s rescue pack: Itzy, Amos, Schnitzel, Schotzy, Tennessee, and Nutmeg. Two of the larger dogs came from abusive situations as well, and along with Shelley often spend time in the family room.

From unwanted to loved

Although estimated by the shelter to be about 12 years of age, Zee’s veterinarian believes the big dog is closer to 14.  That does not matter to Zee. The Air Force veteran is no stranger to adopting senior dogs and giving them happy retirements.

“Over the last six or seven years,” she says,  “I have had three elderly dogs that I took in when they were old.”  

Zee’s rescue work has allowed senior dogs to enjoy their retirement and spend their last years surrounded by love. She estimates that Shelley may have only “about another good year or so…I just wanted her to have a happy ending.”

Since joining the veteran’s pack, Shelley – often called Shelley Bear because she looks like a bear from a distance – has been settling in well. She has put on some much-needed weight, is receiving treatment for her heartworm, and is fed a high quality diet with supplements for her arthritis and thyroid. The big old dog has plenty of room to roam on Zee’s multi-acre property, and has been showing off her excellent manners. Zee and Shelley_400

Years of neglect, however, have taken their toll. Shelley will need to have several teeth pulled. Her first real bath will come in the spring, when the lake near Zee’s property warms up. Because of her hip issues and her size – about 80 pounds – Zee is unable to lift Shelley into a tub. The dog’s physical limitations are limiting other, more enjoyable activities as well.

“She loves riding in the car,” Zee says, “but I don’t take her very often because it’s hard to get her in and out of it, and she’s hard to pick up.”

Companion pets for veterans

Zee’s entire life is a testament to the power of companion pets. Long before she entered the military, animals were an integral part of her life and her family.

“I grew up without a whole lot of neighbors, but we all had pets,” she explains, adding that she thinks Pets for Patriots is the way to go for any veteran considering pet adoption.

“It’s a great way to get a companion animal – a super way!” she exclaims, recognizing that the partnership is good for older veterans and those returning from service alike.

“A lot of what has happened in the Middle East in the last couple of years has been bringing back some things for Vietnam era and older veterans,” she says. “Having an animal around when they are feeling down, I can see how that would be helpful.”

If you are a veterinary practice in Blount County and want to partner with Pets for Patriots, we need you! Learn more and apply here today.

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Army veteran adopts blind three-legged dog crippled by animal cruelty Wed, 18 Feb 2015 18:23:10 +0000 There are few happy endings for dogs and cats who are the subjects of human cruelty. Luckily for a then six week-old puppy left to die in the streets of Detroit, his hero came in the person of an Army veteran who learned about his story and felt compelled to save him. Crixus (Shawn) closeup_400

Our partners at the Michigan Humane Society received a call about a dog who had possibly been hit by a car. Upon examination, it was determined that the young Shepherd mix had been shot with a BB gun.

The dog’s x-rays revealed a BB lodged next to the his spine, rendering one of his hind legs completely useless. Unable to save it, the shelter’s veterinary team amputated the leg. However, the young dog – named Forrest by the shelter staff – was not yet out of the woods.

During post-surgical recovery, Forrest stopped breathing and his heart stopped.

Forrest was resuscitated by the veterinary team at the Michigan Humane Society, but he emerged from the near-death experience with almost total vision loss. He spent several weeks recovering in a foster home before being made available for adoption.

Video courtesy Michigan Humane Society; all rights reserved.

Video courtesy Michigan Humane Society; all rights reserved.

Out of the woods, Forrest finds his hero

Shawn served for more than 10 years in the Army, separating from service as Captain. Like thousands of others in the community, she learned about Forrest in the news and her heart ached. She was not only a veteran, but a practicing veterinarian who has – and has had – other special needs companion pets. Shawn felt called to save Forrest, and give him the life that he deserved. (Click here, or the image above, to see the video).

“If I couldn’t get him,” Shawn says, “I would be worrying about him for the rest of my life.”

The shelter staff told Shawn about their partnership with Pets for Patriots while she was making arrangements to adopt the adorable, blind, three-legged dog. Her application to our companion pet adoption program for veterans was expedited and, just days before Valentines’ Day, Shawn brought her new love home. Shawn and Crixus_400

A pint-sized gladiator starts his new life

The young puppy’s life has been off to an uneasy start, but little Forrest has proven to be a fighter. Shawn decided that her new charge needed a name that better reflected his incredible fortitude.

Forrest has been renamed Crixus, after a Gallic gladiator and military leader in the War of Spartacus.

We’re grateful to Shawn for her service to our country and for her being a hero to a special needs pet who experienced such a tragic start in life. And our thanks as well to the Michigan Humane Society for their extraordinary work rescuing and rehabilitating dogs and cats who are abandoned, abused and unwanted, and giving them a second chance at life.

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How a shelter dog made me a better human Mon, 09 Feb 2015 19:08:33 +0000 Joe is a Navy Corpsman who served in Vietnam and became a better person thanks to an adult shelter dog named Marley. This is their story, in Joe’s own words. Our thanks to our partners at the Sacramento SPCA for helping us make this story possible.

Mission not impossible: be a better human

About four years ago I began a long and arduous path back to good health.

Many years of inactivity, overeating, denial, stinkin’ thinkin’ and misbehaving created someone I no longer liked. With inspiration from my son Anthony and grandson Joey to live a very long life, I sought help from the Veterans Administration Medical Center here in Sacramento, California. This was no small chore after decades of “suck it up,” “get over it,” “nobody cares,” and hiding some inside stuff carried home from Vietnam. Yet my time to accept help openly had come. Joe and Marley_2014_1_400

Physically and emotionally a mess, it was only my spiritual strength, family, and will to live a long life that provided a foundation for an optimistic future. After the help of my primary care physician, many referrals to specialists, numerous follow-up appointments, a few group meetings, I still felt no real change.

But I did develop a new road map – a new plan for change within myself. I was on a quest to be a better human.

A dog guy becomes a cat guy…and then a dog guy again

In need of a companion, I began searching for some type of pet. I checked out birds, guinea pigs, rats, ferrets and tropical fish. That search led me to meet Beth Zimmerman and Pets For Patriots. They helped me decide on bringing a pet into my life. Then on one of numerous visits to the Sacramento SPCA I met Bo da Cat. Joe and Bo Da Cat_400

It was truly a gift to open my eyes and heart to the potential changes I can make with just a small change in my home environment. Bo was a nine year-old tuxedo cat who soon relaxed – and he enjoyed relaxing a lot. He passed away after about one wonderful year for both of us.

Having become friends with Susan and Beth at Pets For Patriots, they gently guided me towards trying [companion pet adoption] again. The Sacramento SPCA has a great website where one can virtually visit all adoptable pets. I checked into all the newly available animals everyday. Soon, I found my new best pal: Dog Marley.

Marley is a six year-old, ten pound, mini poodle mix with a cute under bite, salt and pepper fur, a casual yet lively personality, and a spring in his step. 

The shelter dog and the human

It has been a little over eight months now since my new best pal joined me in our Mantuary. He and I both knew – well, I knew mostly – that there were to be some challenges and changes in our individual behaviors as we become good roommates. While we have overcome most issues and have chosen what is acceptable behavior or not, we are constantly evolving and learning. 

My needs are sometimes trumped by his needs. The weather may be too hot outside, but that doesn’t stop Marley’s bladder from needing to be emptied, and he just won’t use the toilet. Joe grandson and Marley_400

Recently, Marley seems to feign the “I don’t speak human” thing when I ask for his understanding. He has taken to what I am now calling his “invisible man shtick.” I will calmly look at him and say, “Marley, sit please.”

Yep, Marley is a dog and I’m fairly sure politeness is lost on him – not to imply I am rude or impolite. I just seem to have gotten a little grumpy and I am trying to evade the “grumpy old man” title by using Marley as a sounding board. Anyway, normally he will sit and look up at me eagerly with that expression of “OK Roomie, what do you want to do next?” 

Lately though, he will sometimes look away and ignore me as if I am invisible! He even walks away to sniff at something imaginary. So I wait him out, not wanting to repeat the command too often. This was recommended by Andrea Arden, the published author and TV personality who shares her expertise in animal behavior and training on the Pets For Patriots website.

Sometimes, Marley will wait a while and then slowly sit down while looking away – like it was his own idea.

Lonely no longer

I have been a bachelor for a long time. Yet, being a grumpy old man does not necessarily mean I am not capable of change. That’s where Dog Marley differs from being just a pet. He is my pal, my companion. Sometimes I wish I could read his mind, and vise versa. 

Marley unknowingly gives me solace from loneliness, anxiety and isolation.

Scientific evidence has even established the actual physical and mental healing a companion pet provides a person. He is far better than any medication.

Recently I noticed an overnight change in Marley’s behavior. He was listless, not eating well, not wanting to play fetch, peeing on the carpet, and generally being down. Thinking this through, I realized Marley might be in a bit of a grieving mode. His best dog-pal Charlie Chihuahua and his people moved away. He is okay now, but he still checks out their patio in case Charlie has returned. Andrea wrote that dogs experience great loss and about how to guide a pet through the grieving process. With the extra care and plenty of belly rubs, Marley is okay with not being able to play with Charlie.

Little shelter dog teaches big life lessons

The big learning moments for me have been about becoming more patient and trusting. 

I will now remember to re-examine my limitations and boundaries, and become more flexible and considerate. I have learned that it is not always about me, so I have become less selfish since my little dude joined me as well. Considering his needs are more natural to me, and yes, I do dote on him with special food, treats, brushing and scratching.

I used to laugh when I saw people – especially old men – with their cute little dogs being treated special. Joe and Marley_2014_2_400Now I get it. Now I fully appreciate what a companion pet can do for a veteran.

All of my changes have been noted by friends and family. I am far less cynical and stressed, and far more patient, proving Pets For Patriots is an extraordinary concept with outstanding byproducts. For me, they would be my happiness with Dog Marley and a better understanding of what makes me tick.

Are you a United States military veteran? Start your own journey here.

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