Pets For Patriots Blog Veterans With Pets Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:52:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Dog no one wanted a savior to Marine veteran with PTSD Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:52:11 +0000 PTSD and me

James is a Marine Corps veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who for much of his post-military life relied on the kindness of loved ones. One day he decided to pay it forward by saving the life of a love-starved shelter dog no one wanted.

“I have been a Marine who has gone through life with everyone helping him after serving,” he says, “regardless of my inability to be around a large group of people, [or] being overly alert or distant.”

Despite these and other life challenges, James was slow to recognize that he had PTSD. He describes a situation in which he was the last to know, or at least the last to accept that he experienced serious psychological trauma that demanded his attention. James and Layla

“I’ve always had someone around me that was aware of my symptoms except me,” he shares. “I had my ex-girlfriend who did everything for me. All I had to do was pay the bills. She was well aware of my PTSD way before I was. A beautiful person in my life.”

Yellow footprints

James enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994 as part of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. In 1995 he was deployed overseas as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The unit is known as a rapid response force called upon to conduct amphibious and maritime operations under the most adverse conditions.

Members of this unit were involved in the pre-dawn rescue of Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady from Bosnia, days after his plane was shot down. Yet it was a very different experience that stands out most in James’ mind.

“The most memorable time I can say is stepping on the yellow foot prints at Marine recruit training on Parris Island.”

The yellow footprints are a storied tradition for young recruits, symbolizing their first steps towards becoming a United States Marine.

To love and be loved

Long since separated from service, James is looking to put his life back together. He has come to terms with his PTSD and is working hard to confront his struggles in positive, healthful ways. He moved to the Philadelphia area and started college, though still shuns large crowds and other stress-inducing situations.

Being in the military often means shouldering tremendous responsibility, even at a relatively young age. Our nation expects men and women who may just be barely out of high school to make – and act upon – life or death decisions, under extremely difficult conditions and in hostile environments.

Many veterans feel adrift when they separate from service and re-enter civilian life; the demands placed upon them pale in comparison to what they experienced in the military.

James felt a bit wayward as well, and after some soul-searching decided it was the right moment in his life to adopt a companion pet.

“I really needed something in my life that would make me responsible,” he says, “and someone who would give love unconditionally.”

The Marine veteran’s journey took him to Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which waives pet adoption fees for veterans who adopt through the shelter’s partnership with Pets for Patriots.

Hold that dog

It was an early April day when James went to PAWS and met Margo, a then one year-old, 40-pound Pit Bull terrier mix. Due in large part to her being a “Bully breed” no one had looked at her and she had no prospects for a loving home. Layla

Margo’s $200+ adoption fee was more than James could manage on his pension, but the adoption counselor working with him thought the two made a great match. She told him about Pets for Patriots and all of the benefits he would receive if he adopted through our partnership with PAWS, including ongoing discounted veterinary care. Nearby Philadelphia Animal Hospital is one of our many excellent veterinary partners, and extends an ongoing 30% discount to James and other veterans who adopt through Pets for Patriots.

James applied to our program and, owing to some of his challenges, took some time to get his eligibility documents to us in order to complete his application. In the meantime, PAWS arranged for James to foster Margo.

Foster-to-adopt arrangements are very common at shelters and rescues. They help move animals into prospective homes, create space for new animals to enter the shelter and be saved, and give person and pet a chance to make sure they are a good fit for one another.

Once James was approved by Pets for Patriots he converted his foster contract into a final adoption. Margo – since renamed Layla – was officially home.

It’s all about love

The Marine Corps veteran is profoundly passionate about his new best friend. He helped her through an initial bout of separation anxiety, in part with the help of an article authored by dog training expert Andrea Arden, who serves on our Board of Directors.

Like other veterans who have adopted dogs or cats through our charity James discovered that by helping Layla overcome her emotional challenges he was helping himself, too. Sometimes she does this just by demanding he focus on her instead of on himself.

“[I love] the way she looks for my attention,” he says, “if I have a guest or if I’m on the phone. For her it becomes the ‘Layla Show.'”

The pair go nearly everywhere together that companion pets are permitted. Since James does not have a car, errands are done on foot. One of their favorite places to go is their local PETCO store, where the two go shopping with the contribution from our Veterans’ Pet Food Bank Program, which helps defray the cost of food and other essentials for the animals adopted through our work.

Every day it seems that James is more in love with his four-legged battle buddy, and for her part Layla is gaining confidence and realizing that she and James are family.

“Everything is awesome,” James says. “This girl rocks.”

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Pit Bull helps Afghanistan veteran go from battlefront to home front Mon, 16 Nov 2015 19:48:50 +0000 It’s a hard-knock, post-Army life

Ask veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan about their greatest challenge and many will say the adjustment from battlefront to home front. One such veteran has an adopted Pit Bull to thank for helping him make the transition to his post-Army life. Waffles at river

Dunkin was a relatively young and fairly large Pit Bull waiting for his second chance at an Alabama shelter. In reality, Pit Bulls are not a breed unto themselves, but are comprised of a variety of dog breeds with similar physical traits. They are among the most misunderstood types of dogs and, as a result, most prone to mistreatment and abuse.

There is not much known about Dunkin’s life before he arrived at the Lee County Humane Society in Auburn, Alabama, though cruelty does not seem to have played a part in his homelessness. Despite being an intelligent and loving animal, however, Dunkin was one of countless overlooked dogs and cats that our program is dedicated to saving.

In another part of the city, Aaron had just separated from the Army with an Honorable discharge. The Afghanistan war veteran was looking for ways to adapt to civilian life, a challenge that too many veterans struggle with and feel ill-prepared to address.

Little did man or dog know that they were fated to be together, each helping the other through a mutual bond of friendship, healing and love.

Life after wartime

Aaron served in the United States Army from 2012-2015, including one year as a forward observer in Afghanistan. When asked about his most memorable experience from his time in service, he does not hesitate:

“Deployment,” he says, definitively. “Can’t explain why, I think only people who have done it will understand.”

Soon after leaving the Army the young soldier rejoined civilian life and enrolled in college. Right away, he knew that he wanted to adopt a dog. Aaron and Waffles napping

“I wanted a companion and a running buddy,” Aaron explains, perhaps not realizing at the time that companion pet adoption would give him so much more.

A second look at a second-chance dog

As luck would have it, Aaron’s girlfriend worked at the Lee County Humane Society around the time that the Afghanistan war veteran left the Army.

The shelter partners with Pets for Patriots to help the most overlooked companion dogs and cats find loving homes with veterans. Lee County Humane Society offers our members a 10% adoption fee discount, and through Pets for Patriots veterans receive other cost-savings, including ongoing discounted pet health care from local partnering veterinarians.

The suggestion from Aaron’s girlfriend opened his eyes to animals who are overlooked by most adopters, yet who have so much love and life to give.

“I was already planning on adopting a dog,” Aaron recalls, “but when she told me about the program it made me look more at dogs who were less likely to be adopted.”

Rescue me

Dunkin was a 50-pound Pit Bull  with a winning personality when Aaron met him at the Lee County Humane Society.

“He’s even bigger now,” the soldier marvels.

Renamed Waffles, the big dog has the temperament and activity level that complement Aaron’s need for an affable friend and adventure partner. Like most companion pets, Waffles thrives on structure and routine – both familiar staples of military life and things that veterans typically find lacking when they exit the armed forces.

Although pets are gifts in our lives, they require work and care taking. For veterans returning from deployment and trying to find their way the daily needs of a dog or cat can be therapeutic, and prevent people from dwelling on the uncertainty and anxieties of their new civilian lives. Waffles and waffles

“Waffles helps motivate me to be organized and to exercise every day,” Aaron says. “It’s also nice to have someone depending on you to take care of them, and it’s very rewarding when they let you know you are doing a good job.”

The young Pit Bull is flourishing in a loving home, free from the confines of shelter life. Aaron is introducing his new charge to all sorts of experiences, mostly outdoor adventures.

“He loves to be outside just like me,” he says, adding that swimming has not come easily to Waffles.

“He just kind of sinks right now because he is so muscular,” Aaron observes. “He has been called ‘meatball’ by several different people.”

The Afghanistan veteran particularly loves Waffles’ “goofy personality,” and how sociable the dog is with children and other dogs. It would seem that he could not have chosen a more perfect companion to help him ease the transition from battlefront to home front.

“I would definitely encourage other vets to take advantage of the program,” says Aaron. “The animal you adopt will become more than just a pet, and they can help you in so many ways you may not even realize.”

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Dog of fallen soldier in desperate need of a home Wed, 11 Nov 2015 15:30:32 +0000 On this Veterans’ Day 2015 we received word that a young hero died after serving our country and now his dog is in desperate need of a home.

Rambo adoption appeal

Rambo’s soldier dad adopted him as a pup after returning from deployment. We hear that getting a dog was the first thing on his mind when he came home, and at Pets for Patriots we know the healing power of companion pets for our veterans and military service members.

Tragically, three years later Rambo’s soldier was killed after returning from combat deployment.

Grief stricken, this hero’s parents took Rambo in. Not only would their son have wanted it that way, but Rambo was a living, loving reminder of their late son. Since that time our hero’s father has fallen into ill health and Rambo’s mom was physically unable to care for the big, beautiful dog.

With very heavy hearts, the couple surrendered the now six year-old Rottweiller to Pequannock Animal Shelter in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, where he has been since September 18.

Rambo is completely heart broken, stressed and mentally deteriorating at the shelter. He needs stability in his life, and a family to love him as much as his late soldier did – and as much as the good folks at the shelter do now. They don’t want to see him suffer any longer, and neither do we.

A little more about Rambo:

  • Six years old, 120 pounds
  • Up-to-date on all vaccinations
  • Neutered
  • Completed Good Canine Citizen training
  • Would do best as the only dog with a young, active family

Please do not contact Pets for Patriots about Rambo; we are sharing his story in honor of his fallen soldier. All serious inquiries about adoption, foster or qualified rescue are welcome, and must be directed to the shelter caring for him:

Pequannock Animal Shelter
Ask for Amber or Carmen

Let’s get this boy the loving home he deserves, and that his late dad would want for him.



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Pint-sized pup to the rescue of lonely lady sailor Mon, 09 Nov 2015 22:41:00 +0000 It’s often said that good things come in small packages. This proved true for one pint-sized shelter pup who came to the rescue of a lonely Navy sailor looking for some four-legged love.

It’s a small world after all

Kelsey grew up in Kansas and in 2012 enlisted in the Navy. She was stationed aboard the USS Pearl Harbor LSD-52 in San Diego before receiving Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

Leaving California meant leaving a close personal connection, as well.

“My boyfriend is a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego,” she says, adding that he will be relocating to Tampa early in 2016. Kelsey USN and Bruce Wayne_cropped

During her time in service Kelsey has learned that the world is not as big as it may seem; she marvels at how life in the military has expanded her horizons in so many ways.

“The people I’ve met and made connections with all over the world,” she says. “Anywhere I go, I have a mutual friend with someone. Makes me realize how small the world really is.”

Yet the Navy sailor’s move across the country had quite the opposite impact; her world started to feel more empty and lonely than ever before.

Someone to love

Like all veterans, Kelsey moves where the military needs her. When she PCS’d from San Diego to Tampa, she was relocating to a place that was absent the familiar places and faces she had come to know. Suddenly her world felt very small, and wanting.

“I was in a new city, all alone, and didn’t have anyone to come home to,” she says. “It was really lonely.”

Little did Kelsey know that the answer to her loneliness rested with a 16-pound Chihuahua-Dacshund mix, waiting at a local shelter to make someone’s world complete.

Pint-sized pup gets life-saving relocation

Bones was a three year-old dog transferred to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay from a shelter where his life was at risk. These types of transfer arrangements among shelters and rescues are common – within communities and even across state lines. The goal is to relocate adoptable animals to areas where they may have a better chance of finding a permanent home than where they were found, rescued or surrendered.

By this time Kelsey had decided to get a dog, preferably an adult.

“I wanted a dog that didn’t require all the extra attention that a puppy needs,” she shares. “I needed a companion.”

The Navy veteran started her search online, where she first found out about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. She learned about all the benefits we offer, and how the Humane Society of Tampa Bay waives pet adoption fees and offers discounted veterinary care for our members.

The decision to apply was an easy one.

“With my recent move I was low on funds,” Kelsey says, “and Pets for Patriots offered a variety of ways to help me bring my new pet friend home without breaking the bank.”

As an adult pet, Bones met our criteria for adoption. Pets for Patriots is focused solely on dogs and cats most overlooked for adoption: older and special needs animals, and large breed dogs.

Within days of his arrival at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, Bones went from homeless to home.

Love to the rescue

Bones was soon renamed Bruce Wayne, after the legendary superhero character Batman. While not world famous, this Bruce Wayne proved to be just the type of hero that Kelsey needed most.

“He gives me something to come home to and love on,” she shares. “He’s loyal in ways I never could have imagined.”

For his part, the little pup is fully embracing his second chance at life. Together he and Kelsey are making Tampa their home.

“He’s so affectionate,” she marvels. “He loves to cuddle, and play outside with the squirrels.”

Adopting a companion pet changed Kelsey’s world for the better. She likens it to an unexpected form of therapy, and encourages other military veterans to consider bringing a pet into their lives.

“It’s a great opportunity! You’re not only helping an animal,” she says, “but you’re helping yourself without knowing it.”

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And dog makes three: twice surrendered dog completes Air Force family Mon, 02 Nov 2015 20:42:42 +0000 Donner was a big, energetic Labrador Retriever mix in a Florida shelter. Surrendered twice within his first year of life, he repaid the disabled Air Force veteran who adopted him by completing his young family and helping him regain his health. John and Ajax_edited

Love is in the air

John fell in love while stationed in the United Kingdom as a member of the United States Air Force, during which time he served in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. When he eventually returned to the United States he was accompanied by not only a wife, but a new baby as well.

Injuring his leg “ranks high up on the list” of John’s memorable Air Force memories, but he enjoys reminiscing about a less painful experience he had while working base security. A senior officer sought entry to a prohibited area, but did not have the proper authorization.

“[He told me] he was authorized but didn’t have the paperwork to prove it,” John recalls, “so [he] didn’t get in.”

Now separated from service, happily married and a proud father, John still could not help but feel that his family was missing something. His quest for completeness and companionship soon led him to a large yellow dog longing for a home and people to call his own.

Completing the puzzle

The Air Force veteran knew that a dog would help motivate him to exercise his injured leg on a regular basis, something he was having trouble doing on his own. He started his search the way many people do: on the internet, where he first found out about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.

“Got interested and followed through,” he says. “There was a local shelter, so [I] decided to go there. The animals there were all very well looked-after and healthy. Decided with my wife and son almost immediately that we were going to go ahead and adopt a dog.”

John and his wife, along with their son, visited Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Wellington, Florida, one of hundreds of shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies and municipal animal controls we partner with to make the best pet-person match. There they found Ajax – originally named Donner – a big, yellow Labrador Retriever mix. The connection was instant, as if Ajax had chosen them.

“Now our family could be complete,” John says. “And I certainly had the motivation to walk him and exercise my leg.”

In time, John and his family would discover why Ajax had been surrendered to the shelter twice within his first year.

Walking the walk

The Air Force veteran realized almost immediately how the big dog’s unsettled past had at least one negative consequence: no one ever trained Ajax. Among other things he did not know how to walk properly on leash.

“He pulls hard on the leash, especially when walking along a road with heavy traffic,” John says. “But this is something we are all working on, and have now got him to the stage where he will sit and wait for the traffic to clear a bit before continuing the walk. Obviously he gets a treat for being such a brave boy and not trying to run into the road, which is what was originally happening.”

All of the time that John and his family have devoted to training Ajax has been worth it; the rescued dog has blossomed into a fiercely devoted companion and protector. And Ajax has already had a demonstrable and positive influence on John’s quality of life. (John) AJAX Sep 2015 Laying down

“Well, I certainly do a LOT more walking now!” he exclaims, noting the big dog’s active nature. “He looks forward to his walks and goes totally crazy running around the house whenever he sees one of us pick up his leash.”

Ajax’s enthusiasm for exercise has forced John to be active even when he did not feel up to the task. After all, one of the veteran’s inspirations for adopting a dog was to encourage him to exercise more – and it is working.

“The mobility range of my leg has improved,” John observes, “and overall I feel healthier.”

Workout buddy, official lovebug and toy destroyer

Since joining John’s family, Ajax has earned the nickname “lovebug,” because he “just loves being loved!”

In addition to taking many walks and reveling in simply being adored, Ajax is especially fond of uncovering the weaknesses of new toys and then chewing them to pieces.

“One of his favorite things is destroying supposedly indestructible dog toys, eight of them in the first month alone, much to the amusement of all of us,” John says. “He is really smart and will just keep working on one area of the toy, slowly turning it in his paws to get to the right spot, before starting the chewing.” John and Ajax 2015_square

John and his family take the toy destruction in stride since Ajax has not chewed anything valuable, and seems content to simply shred his new toys to pieces.

“[We] have a lot of fun with friendly bets on how long each toy [we] get him will last.”

With time, love and patience all things are possible

Like many dogs, Ajax has developed a few bad habits that will require ongoing training to correct. Sadly, this is a responsibility that often proves to be too daunting for some adopters, and dogs like Ajax find themselves stuck in the shelter system. Although he was twice surrendered, the rescue dog is one of the lucky ones: he finally found his forever home.

John and his family were more than up to the challenge, however. They have been working patiently with Ajax since bringing him into their lives.

“We have taken longer than usual to train him into our family,” John explains, “simply because he had already been returned to the shelter twice before, and it took him almost a month to realize that he now has a permanent home.”

Ajax is proving to be worthy of his family’s devotion, and John is not short of wonderful words to describe his newest charge.

“How best to describe him… Adorable, loyal, protective,” he says, “Especially with my wife, when he will growl and ‘guard’ her from anyone on their walks. Again, something we are working on, with treats for good behavior.”

John knew that Ajax would be a work in progress – and that he was worth the commitment.

“We knew he was intelligent when we first got him. We also knew he had numerous issues to work through. With time and patience, he is getting through them. He tries so hard to please us,” he says, adding, “Ajax completes our family.”

How does your cat or dog made your family complete?

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Train derailment leads to adoption of one very unwanted dog Mon, 26 Oct 2015 20:32:58 +0000 Buck was a homeless dog who nobody seemed to want, repeatedly adopted and then surrendered to a Tennessee shelter over the course of his relatively short life. As unlikely as it sounds, a train derailment set off a chain of events that led to his final adoption despite his foster family having no intention to keep him.

Early in July, 2015, a train carrying toxic cargo derailed in Eastern Tennessee, forcing the evacuation of more than 5,000 people in the surrounding area. Blount County Animal Center was in the impact zone, and asked its volunteers to foster the dogs in their care until it was safe for them to be returned to the shelter.

Scott is an Air Force veteran living in the area; he and his wife wanted to help. The couple were both in agreement that they would provide temporary respite to one of the shelter’s dogs. Neither was ready to adopt a pet, and they devised a seemingly simple plan to make sure they did not become “foster failures.”

“My wife took up the call and brought Buck home to us,” he explains. “He is a Boxer mix and the reason she chose him was because I really don’t like Boxers all that much, and we would be less willing to keep him.”

Love conquers all

Buck immediately proved himself to be “an extremely loving dog” without “a mean bone in his body.” Despite the big dog’s obvious charm, Scott and his wife were resolute in their decision: when the cleanup was complete, Buck was going back to the shelter. Yet Buck’s loving ways captured the couple’s curiosity, and they found themselves wanting to know more about their accidental house guest. Scott and Buck_square

“After the third of fourth day of having him my wife asked about his story and why he was at the shelter,” Scott recalls. “Come to find out he was brought to the shelter three times over the course of his two short years on this planet. He has spent most of his life in a crate at someone’s house or in the shelter kennel.”

Upon learning of Buck’s hard luck life, Scott and his wife had a change of heart.

“We decided that he wouldn’t go back and we would try to give him the home he deserves,” Scott says.

For the love of country and aircraft

In 1989, Scott joined the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, a job he describes as nothing short of a dream.

“I loved working on the aircraft,” he muses. “I had to be removed from the flight line every day. My chief thought I was a nut for not leaving when my day was up.”

During the course of Scott’s enlistment there were tremendous cuts to military spending that impacted all branches of service. With a heavy heart, he decided it was time to leave.

“I wasn’t happy,” he recalls, “but what are you going to do? It hurt when I left. I out-processed and that was that. I was no longer part of the Air Force, but I did get over it.”

Although Scott ended his Air Force career sooner than he planned when he enlisted, he found his military experience to be an asset in the civilian world.

“Being in the United States Air Force helped jump start my career,” he says. “Employers were willing to give me a second look based [up]on my service.”

Hard luck dog helps veteran through stressful time

Once Scott and his wife decided to keep Buck after all, they learned about Pets for Patriots and our partnership with the Blount County Animal Center to help the most overlooked companion animals find permanent homes with military veterans. The shelter waives pet adoption fees for our members, and we provide a range of benefits to help make pet parenthood more affordable.

Scott loved the idea and decided to apply.

“I filled out the paperwork with Pets For Patriots, submitted my DD214 and he was ours,” he says. “Very easy process.”

Buck is relishing his new status as a much beloved family dog. The Boxer mix has even endeared himself to the couple’s youngest daughter Caroline who, at 17, “never had an attachment to an animal before.” The big dog now sleeps in her bed.

“When she is home he followers her everywhere she goes,” Scott says. “Buck is just as loving with my wife and I. She calls him her little boy even though he is 65 pounds. He is very gentle with all the family.”

Recently Scott fell on hard times, having lost his job. Buck has proven himself to not only be an always there friend, but helps alleviate the anxiety his veteran is experiencing.

“We spend the whole day together,” Scott says. “He lays around watching me do auto maintenance and chores around the house. I am glad to have him through this stressful time in my life. He makes me happy and makes me laugh.”

“…a running fool”

One of Scott’s greatest pleasures is watching Buck embrace his newfound freedom. He often takes him to a nearby 42-acre farm, where the once unwanted dog just loves to run.(Scott) Buck_square

“I love watching Buck run,” Scott says. “He is so fast. I think he runs because he was never able to. Squirrels and rabbits fear him, and kids love him.”

It is clear that Buck has found a special place in this veteran’s heart, and that each member of his new family finds him endearing in their own way.

“That dog is a running fool,” Scott marvels, adding, “My daughter and wife think he is the bees’ knees.”

Although Scott never intended to adopt a dog, he is acutely aware of the commitment he made to Buck in doing so: that he would have a home for the rest of his life. The Air Force veteran encourages other veterans to consider pet adoption and, if possible, to spend time with the dog or cat they intend to adopt.

“Make sure that dog is the one you plan on spending 15 or so years with,” he says. “I knew Buck was the one, but some might not be sure.”

Scott reflects on Buck’s life before he saved him – routinely adopted and returned to the shelter – and believes it has an emotional impact that potential adopters need to consider before they bring home a new companion.

“It hurts the dog more than you will ever know,” he says. “They just don’t understand.”

For one oft-surrendered dog, his days of homelessness and of life in a crate are over. And for this one Air Force veteran, he found a loyal, loving friend at a time in his life when he needed one most.

“I am very happy with Buck,” Scott says. “He is my bud.”

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Rescue dog saves retired airman from “a bad case of lonely” Mon, 19 Oct 2015 19:03:30 +0000 Ending a multi-decade career can be tough. One veteran airman found that a rescue dog saved him from the loneliness and boredom that plagued him after he retired from the workforce, and helped him honor the memory of a recently departed pet.

Airman’s dream career

Charles worked hard his entire life.

The father of three served in the United States Air Force for more than 30 years before retiring to part-time jobs. Major surgery led to his full retirement, and he currently gets around with the help of a motorized wheelchair. Charles and Sophie

It was 1969 when Charles enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard, fresh out of high school. Several years later, in 1973, he became a full-time technician. Deployments took him all over the world – including to Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, France and Turkey – before he eventually retired as an E-9 aircraft maintenance supervisor.

Charles describes his career as nothing short of a dream.

“I had always heard that if you like your job, you never work a day in your life,” he says. “I can honestly say that working on and around military aircraft was a dream come true for me, for all thirty-six years.”

After nearly four decades of service, the retired airman now resides in rural Tennessee where he spends time with his three grandchildren and tinkers with his 1986 Corvette.

To honor a fallen four-legged friend

Charles always had a soft spot for dogs, especially rescues. He had a special relationship with his beloved rescue, Munchie, until the dog died from a spinal stroke after 12 too-short years.

“I have loved all my pets, but Munchie and I had a very special bond. I felt, in his honor, another rescue was in order,” Charles shares, adding that following Munchie’s loss he was experiencing “a bad case of lonely.” Charles and Sophie adopted

Studies have shown that elderly people with companion pets are more than one-third less likely to report loneliness than people without a pet in their lives. Despite having a loving wife, three children and an equal number of grandchildren, Charles felt something was missing when Munchie passed away.

As luck would have it, Charles has a good friend who volunteers at Blount County Animal Shelter, one of hundreds of shelters, rescues and municipal animal controls nationwide that partner with Pets for Patriots to help the most overlooked shelter animals find hope and a home with military veterans.

To ease the financial costs associated with pet guardianship, we partner with veterinarians in the communities we serve to deliver a minimum 10% discount for the life of the adopted pet’s care, and provide access to additional discounts on pet food, toys and essential supplies.

Interested, but not ready, the retired airman decided that when the time was right he would head down to the shelter to find his new best friend.

“I think she adopted me”

Charles reminisces about how he adopted – or rather, was adopted by – a frightened little shelter dog.

“I will never forget how Sophie adopted me.” 

Named Sandy at the time, Sophie was a five year-old Chihuahua mix when she came to the Blount County Animal Shelter. Terrified of everyone and everything in her surroundings, she was completely unresponsive to Charles when he visited her at the shelter one Wednesday afternoon.

“She was so scared she would not even come out of her cage, even for a treat,” he says.

Charles returned to the shelter that following weekend, intent on finding a dog. The veteran entered the reception area, unaware that Sophie had decided to venture out of her kennel and sit on a volunteer’s lap in a chair alongside the front desk.

Then something quite unexpected happened.

“When she saw me sit down she came over and climbed in my lap,” Charles says, “so I think she adopted me.”

The Air Force veteran signed the adoption contract and never looked back.

Who adopted whom

The once terrified little dog is now completely at home with her veteran.

“Sophie is my constant companion,” Charles says. “She loves laying beside me in my recliner, getting a belly rub while watching T.V.”

Sophie even enjoys rides on her veteran’s motorized wheelchair, and her only discontent is when Charles must leave her at home to run errands.Charles and Sophie cuddling

“My wife says that if I lave to go to the store she paces and whines, or lays and looks out the window,” he says. “I have never had a more dedicated friend.”

Charles repays Sophie’s love with a little spoiling, something every pet deserves. He recently bought her a new red collar with silver paw prints, and a new tag that reads, “who adopted whom” – and decided that “it couldn’t be more appropriate.”

The staff at the Blount County Animal Shelter has already paired several “last-chance” companion pets with veterans through our program, but believes that this may be their most perfect match to date. Charles is inclined to agree, and offers advice for other military veterans who may wonder if a companion pet adoption is right for them.

“There is nothing better than looking into your pet’s eyes and seeing the unconditional love they have for you,” he says, “and a rescued pet seems to be even more loving.”

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the rescuer and the rescued; arguably person and pet each fill those roles interchangeably. And Charles does not hesitate for a moment when reflecting on what he loves most about his little Sophie.

“I love having her sitting on the console while I work on the Vette, and curling up in bed at night and petting her while watching T.V.,” he says. “There is nothing more relaxing.”

Sophie has come a long way from her days in the shelter, cowering in her kennel and unwilling to accept the kindness of strangers. For his part, Charles is a new man – no longer lonely, and certainly never alone, especially since one of Sophie’s greatest joys is riding with her veteran on his wheelchair. Charles tries to put it all into words.

“They need us as much as we need them,” he says. “I just can’t describe what joy a loving pet can bring.”

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Special needs pup a lifeline to Navy veteran dogged by depression Mon, 12 Oct 2015 22:22:27 +0000 Hard knock life for stray pup

Shadow is a pup who earns the moniker “special” not only due to her physical challenges, but for how she is able to uplift the Navy veteran who adopted her from the grips of his depression.

The Lab mix was not even a year old when she arrived at the Jacksonville Humane Society with serious signs of a hardscrabble life. Shadow had been transferred from another shelter where her tail had to be amputated due to a pre-existing degloving injury. Follow up radiographs revealed that her right hind leg was broken in not one, but two places, requiring additional medical intervention. Mark and Shadow

No one knows whether Shadow’s injuries were the result of human abuse or the realities of life of a stray. She was in recovery for about one month before she could be eligible for adoption and it was nearly another month thereafter until she found her home with a Navy veteran who needed her as badly as she needed him.

Service at sea

Mark served honorably in the United States Navy from July 1997 to February 2007, starting out as a out as a Deck Seaman aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg CG-64 in support of Operation Desert Fox. The primary mission of the operation was the destruction of Iraq’s capacity to produce and deliver weapons of mass destruction.

“We launched 69 Tomahawks at Iraq,” Mark recalls.

The military operation was the largest against Iraq since the Persian Gulf War until the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The Navy veteran remembers well the events of 9/11 that gave birth to this historic operation.

“I was on my second tour overseas, but this time I am a Second Class Damage Controlman on the U.S.S. Gettysburg CG-64,” he says. “We were in the Mediterranean Sea when we turned and were heading to sit off the  coast of Israel. I was sitting down in berthing watching the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93 being attacked by terrorists.”

Early signs of troubled waters

Following his deployments about the U.S.S. Gettysburg, Mark was stationed in Naval Support Activity (NSA) Northwest Annex Navy Base in Chesapeake, Virginia for shore duty.

“I had some good experiences and had some bad experiences,” he says, including riding out Hurricane Isabel.

While the hurricane passed, Mark noticed other troubles did not. The sailor he started to notice signs of depression and, to help him cope, he adopted his “first four-legged friend.” His name was Sargent. 

Depression and anxiety take their toll

Mark’s shore duty over, the sailor was once again sent out to sea. He joined the U.S.S. Robert G. Bradley, which was already on deployment in a drug interdiction operation, one of many it conducted with the cooperation of other naval and Coast Guard assets. 

It was during this sea duty that Mark’s world began to fall apart.

“The stress of the long hours and the overwhelming of burning people for their simple mistakes just took a toll on me,” he shares. “I ended up having a nervous breakdown.”

Mark was taken off the ship and placed at the Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC) at Mayport, Florida. While there he underwent treatment for anxiety and depression at the mental health clinic at Naval Hospital Jacksonville.

From sailor to civilian

In February, 2007 and after nearly a decade of service, Mark was honorably discharged from the Navy.

“That is a total of nine years seven months, so with that being said I just round my time up to ten years,” he says. “It makes it easier saying ten years then saying nine years seven months.”

Like too many veterans – particularly those coping with mental health challenges – Mark had a difficult time transitioning to life after the military. He was dogged by a deep depression that only intensified as time went on.

“I did try to work, but was unsuccessful in doing so due to my depression and anxiety,” he says, adding that he went back to school for a degree in business marketing until his wife’s health motivated him to change course.

“I changed my major after I learned that my wife had a medical issue,” Mark explains. “I ended up studying biology in case I reached a point in my life where I could work again.”

Although attending school helped Mark focus on the future, it only served to worsen his depression and anxiety – so much so that he left school before completing his degree.

“…the hardest time…”

Mark now had more time on his hands and wanted to do something positive. After consulting with his wife, Robin and their young son, he made a bold decision to help others – the four-legged variety.

“My family and I decided that it would be neat to become foster parents for the Jacksonville Humane Society,” he says, “so we fostered puppies and kittens to help them out until they were old enough to be adopted out.”

Fostering helps shelters alleviate crowding by designating certain pets for temporary, in-home care and socialization until they can be adopted.

“During the time of us fostering, our beloved Sargent was getting sick, so his time was coming fast,” says Mark, noting that the dog had been a member of the family for 12 wonderful years.

“In April of 2015 we ended up having to put our beloved Sargent to sleep. That was the hardest time, even for the family,” he says. “With him gone it made it hard on me, and my depression and anxiety had taken a toll on me more than ever.”

Special needs pup a lifeline from above

One month had gone by since Sargent’s death when Robin saw a dog at the Jacksonville Humane Society who caught her eye. She asked if the family could foster the young Lab mix. After a provisional approval, Mark and his son came to meet their newest charge.

“She came right up to my family and loved on them,” he says, “and then came up to me and loved on me as I walked out the door.” Mark and Shadow_cropped

Named Brittney at the time, Mark changed her name to Shadow.

“I didn’t really like Brittney and it just didn’t fit right,” the Navy veteran explains. “Shadow fit perfectly because she was constantly following me everywhere I went.”

The special needs pup was still receiving follow up medical care for her tail amputation and broken leg. As fosters, Mark and his wife were responsible to bring her in for scheduled visits at the shelter’s full-service veterinary hospital. Shadow’s next appointment was particularly memorable because it marked the end of her time as a temporary member of Mark’s family.

“Shadow was scheduled for a check-up at the Jacksonville Humane Society,” he recalls, “and that same day she was released for adoption – so we adopted her that special day in May. That was when her name fully changed to Shadow at the Jacksonville Humane Society.”

Once down on her luck, dog makes a difference

Mark adopted Shadow through our partnership with Jacksonville Humane Society, which offers a deeply reduced adoption fee of just $20 to veterans in our program who adopt eligible dogs and cats – adults, special needs animals and large breed dogs.

“Now I got Shadow by using the Pets for Patriots program at the Jacksonville Humane Society which has turned out to be a very outstanding program,” says Mark, who has since become an advocate for our charity. “I am helping to spread the word about the Pets for Patriots program to military members that are returning back from areas of war.” 

While Mark has high hopes that Shadow can be a trained assistance dog for him, the special needs pup is proving to be a natural healer.

“Shadow has helped my wife even when she has a seizure and she even helps me when I am feeling depressed,” says the Navy veteran. “Shadow has made a difference in our lives.”

Due to her young age and physical condition when she was first rescued, it is unlikely that Shadow ever received any form of love or training. She remains a work in progress. For example, she no longer crosses back and forth in front of Mark when they go for a walk, and has learned to stay by his side.

Despite her difficult beginnings, Shadow is eager to please – and Mark is equally eager to train her to the extent of her emotional and physical abilities. They pair have started a dog manners class at Jacksonville Humane Society and, when they graduate, plan to pursue the Canine Good Citizen class as well.

In this and so many other ways, the young dog’s life is a 180-degree turn from her past. Once homeless, Shadow now sleeps next to Mark’s and Robin’s bed at night.

“She has special bed on my side of the bed,” says Mark, “and gets a treat at night right before bed. Since Shadow has an injured right hip, a missing toe and tail, I give her a hip and joint supplement in moist dog food.” 

While every veteran and pet in our program has a unique story, some plot lines are hauntingly similar. Many veterans put their own challenges into a different perspective when they are faced with caring for companion animals who have physical and emotional needs of their own. Often, it is the men and women coping with the most stubborn life challenges who tend to adopt those dogs and cats who are in greatest need.

So far, Shadow is following the paw prints of other adopted pets before her, and Mark and Robin are convinced that Shadow came into their lives for a reason.

“My wife and I believed that Shadow was brought to us by our beloved dog Sargent,” he says. “This is where my family and Shadow will start a new chapter in our lives together.”

Visit us online to learn how we save lives of person and pet. 

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Rescued Pit Bull saves combat veteran from “lonely world” Mon, 28 Sep 2015 20:05:01 +0000 The world can be a pretty lonely place, especially for a veteran transitioning to civilian life. For one such veteran, a rescued Pit Bull was all he needed to battle loneliness and deal with the stresses of everyday life.

Air Force ‘cowboy’ aims high

Jason joined the Air Force, and was stationed in both Oklahoma and Germany with the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) enlisted air crew. A profound sense of duty inspired the die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan to enlist. Jason and Tyrion_cropped

“I entered the military because I think all men should serve their country,” he says.

While deployed overseas Jason was assigned to the NATO Air Base in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Due to a lack of base housing, he lived in the local community and cites it as one of the most memorable experiences of his time in service.

“I had German landlords and all my friends were Dutch,” Jason says. “The base bordered Holland. I think this has to be one of the top 10 best military assignments anyone could have.”

Adopting a best friend

After he completed his tours of duty Jason found everyday life to be less high-flying than his military career. The transition from service to civilian life was difficult, stressful and – above all – lonely.

Now living in Hampton Roads, Virginia, Jason needed a friend, and shares his reasons for choosing to adopt a dog.

“To help me deal with stress,” he explains, “and dogs are the best friends people can have.”

The Air Force veteran learned about Pets for Patriots and its companion pet adoption program from a fellow veteran who adopted through our charity, and decided it was just what he needed.

Jason visited one of our local shelter partners, Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center, for help finding a program-eligible pet that suited his needs and lifestyle. The shelter has been a member of our adoption partner network since 2012 and extends a 50% adoption fee to veterans in our program – in addition to the various benefits that Pets for Patriots provides.

Life in “a pretty lonely world”

At the time, Jason had no idea how much one particular dog in the shelter’s care would change his life.

Auggie was a large, male stray Pit Bull. Due to his age, size and breed his prospects for adoption were dim. The big dog was at the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center for nearly one month before Jason met, and ultimately adopted him.

Since renamed Tyrion, the rescue dog is already proving his mettle.

Jason and Tyrion 2_cropped

“Tyrion has given me a companion in a pretty lonely world,” Jason says. “He is always happy to see me. He can tell when I am depressed and dealing with high anxiety times. He is also very protective and just an all around AWESOME Pit Bull.”

The Air Force veteran is not only thrilled with his new friend, but happy that he adopted him through Pets for Patriots.

“The program is amazing and helps with expenses,” he says, in reference to the generous post-adoption stipend towards pet food and other basics, and ongoing discounted pet care from participating veterinarians.

Jason has even decided to support Pets for Patriots through purchases he makes on eBay and Amazon, where we receive a portion of sales when shoppers select our charity.

Less tangible benefits are no less rewarding and, in fact, are at the heart of why Jason chose pet adoption in the first place. Companion animals help people create positive, non-threatening social interactions which, in turn, help to reduce the isolation and loneliness that so many veteran experience after military service.

“He is a people magnet!” Jason exclaims. “I get constant compliments from people when I walk him about how beautiful is he is.”

But perhaps the most amazing benefit is the unconditional love that binds a once-lonely veteran and a once-stray dog.

“He is very loving as well,” says Jason, “and I can tell he looks at me like I’m his Daddy.”

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

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Navy-Air Force veteran saves life of “angel sent from up above” Tue, 22 Sep 2015 00:35:12 +0000 Proud to serve, by sea or by air

Kyle is a veteran of both the Navy and the Air Force. His guiding ethos is to fight for the rights of people and pets who cannot fight for themselves.

A recent college graduate and current Air Force Reservist, Kyle is working through a management program with a major, multi-regional supermarket chain. However, it is abundantly clear that service to country is part of this veteran’s DNA. Kyle and Cam 2_square

“I entered the military having the desire to give back in some way even if I did not go active,” he says. “I feel the need to give something back to America, and still feel the need to do more.”

In 2009, Kyle joined the Navy Reserves as a Seabee – their motto, “We build, we fight.” At the time, he planned to attend college and eventually transition to active duty, but elected to stay in school. After more than four-and-a-half years with the Navy he switched to the Air Force Reserves, attached to the 512th CES (Civil Engineer Squadron) in Dover, Delaware.

“Even though I am serving as a Reservist,” he says, “I feel the need to put on the uniform and stand up to protect the rights of every American. I want to create a future not just for my family, but also many others, as long as I live.”

Like many veterans before him and no doubt many to follow, Kyle thrives on the profound sense of camaraderie that is the bedrock of military culture.

“I cannot explain these relationships that are developed between the men and women you meet,” he explains, “but the bonds built, memories made are some of the best times you could ever be a part of. Only other service members know the feeling I am talking about.”

Second chances

As a Reservist, Kyle has the opportunity to pursue a life and career in the civilian world while maintaining his military commitments, a circumstance that gives him a unique perspective on many things in life, including companion pet adoption.

“As a military member we fight for the rights for people who cannot. We leave our families to ensure safety for the masses. We will give the shirts off our backs to help anyone in need,” he says, adding, “I use that same motto for animals in shelters.” Kyle, Reese and Cam_cropped

The dual Navy-Air Force veteran understands that homeless animals are innocents. They “did nothing wrong nor did they want to be in a shelter;” their only desires “love and companionship.”

No stranger to pet adoption – Kyle had two dogs at home prior to adopting through Pets for Patriots – he admits that he and his wife would adopt even more if their finances allowed. For them, adoption is the only option.

“I chose to adopt to give a pet a second chance,” Kyle says. “I adopt to spare a life, I adopt to give another chance, and I adopt because I want to help.”

The savior and the saved

Kyle is a previous pet adopter and believes that there is something special, even unique, about the bond created with a rescued animal.

“The love from an adopted pet is not like any other,” he says. “You can feel the love and see it in their eyes when you take them away from their nightmares.”

Cam is a large, adult Great Pyrenees mix who found himself homeless and in the care of the Virginia Beach SPCA, a Pets for Patriots adoption and veterinary partner. While Kyle and his wife were visiting the shelter and thinking about adding the big dog to their four-legged family, Cam was adopted by someone else.

“He was adopted before we could get him, but returned,” the veteran recalls. “It was like a sign.”

The shelter told Kyle about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for veterans, including the many benefits for adopting harder-to-place pets like Cam. The Virginia Beach SPCA allowed Kyle to foster Cam while he completed his application to our program, which gave him the opportunity to ensure that his newest charge would get along with his other two dogs.

“Cam seemed to fit right in helping everyone in our home feel whole,” says Kyle.

“An angel sent from up above”

Kyle was approved by Pets for Patriots and the foster was a success, paving the way for him to convert Cam’s foster to a permanent adoption. The veteran was not the only one in the family who appreciated the newest addition.

“Reese, our Saint Bernard, needed Cam,” Kyle observes. “They are similar in size and love playing with each other.”

Decidedly smaller Apollo – a Beagle-Hound mix – is Cam’s cuddle buddy.

“He [Apollo] desires the need to cuddle and sometimes Reese does not want to,” Kyle explains. “Cam always lets Apollo lay with him.”

An experienced pet adopter, Kyle could have very easily adopted Cam without Pets for Patriots, but chose otherwise. Kyle and Cam_square

“It [Pets for Patriots] gives a voice to service members who desire companionship,” he says. “It also helps save not just the animal’s life, but also the veteran. Through Pets for Patriots you combined two lost souls that only seek a single bond. And there seems to be no better bond similar to the service than that of a bond with a pet.”

Kyle has honored our work by calling Pets for Patriots “our animal version of the USO.” But fittingly, his most passionate words are saved for Cam, the big dog who almost got away.

“Being all white it is as if he was an angel sent from up above,” he says. “Nothing but happiness has come from bringing Cam home.”

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