Navy veteran learns life lessons from last-chance shelter dog

A career Navy veteran who traveled the world learns important life lessons from a last-chance shelter dog.

For almost three decades, Betty served in the Naval Reserve and dedicated 40 years as a civilian employee until her dual retirements. In the course of a civilian job with the Navy Recruiting Area FIVE in Great Lakes, Illinois, Betty was invited to join the Navy through the Advanced Pay Grade Program, which sought Naval candidates with related civilian experience. She enlisted and, after nearly 30 years of service exclaims, “It was the best decision I ever made!”

Betty’s Naval career took her to many far-flung areas of the world. She recalls supporting the war in Bosnia, humanitarian support throughout the Caribbean and spending time in Bahrain, among many other adventures. But one experience stands out in her mind: Italy, 1979-1983. Betty and Bella smiling

“Italy had very little in the way of support for the Americans living there,” Betty recalls. “Electricity would go out for no reason, so you’d loose all the food in your refrigerator. The homes had no central heat, so you heated by kerosene in freezing temperatures.”

The veteran’s most memorable experience, however, was the return flight home in 1983.

“I learned that you don’t really know how good you have it here in the States,” she says, “until you don’t have it anymore.”

The Navy veteran remembers distinctly the moment when the first wheel hit the tarmac and the entire airplane erupted in applause.

“I’m sure we all had different reasons for the applause, but one thing was for sure,” says Betty, “we were all glad to back on American soil. You can’t script that sort of thing and I really don’t know why or how we all decided to applaud, but it was a heartwarming experience shared by us all.”

A home silenced by the deaths of three beloved pets

Betty’s husband is a Naval Reservist approaching his 30-year mark, but the couple have more than their commitment to service in common: they have always shared their hearts and home with pets.

“They give you unconditional love and ask for very little in return,” Betty says. “When you are down, they are there for you and when you are up, they’ll share your happiness in a thousand ways.”

The pair used to have three four-legged family members: a Golden Retriever, a hound mix and a cat. But tragedy struck when all three of their beloved pets died within two months of each other. The hound mix died from blood cancer within two days of his diagnosis, the cat passed away two weeks later and the Golden Retriever a month after that.

“To say our lives were changed was an understatement,” Betty remembers.

The emptiness at home was crushing.

“After about a month of silence and no animal around to talk to, play with and care for,” says Betty, “I started looking at the local SPCA and Petfinder to see what rescue animals were available.”

It was at that moment that Betty found “the one” at the Virginia Beach SPCA: a Great Pyrenees mix. Bella on bed (Betty)

“That’s when I saw Bella,” she says. “When I saw her sweet face and met her at the Virginia Beach SPCA, I knew she had to come home with me.”

Because Betty is a military veteran, the shelter staff told her that she may be eligible to join Pets for Patriots, which offers various benefits to veterans and military personnel who adopt last-chance dogs and cats through their partner shelters across the country.

“I chose to adopt through Pets for Patriots,” Betty declares, “because it seemed like the right thing to do.”

A life saved and life lessons learned

Ever since she joined this career Navy family, Bella has changed life for Betty and her husband – for the better.

“My Bella has put a smile back on my face every day I wake up,” says Betty.

Even more, the big sweet dog has taught the Navy veteran important life lessons, as well.

“She has taught me to take time to play, time to relax and time to just sit back and watch the world around us,” says Betty, with the newfound wisdom from her new pet friend. Betty and Bella

The dog’s attentive nature means “you can’t make a move without her,” but Betty would not have it any other way. And despite being a dog who “might not ever get adopted because of her size,” it’s Bella’s size that Betty finds most endearing.

“She’s big!” the Navy veteran exclaims. “When you hug her, you aren’t going to hurt her.”

Betty’s advice to those considering adopting through Pets for Patriots is simple:

“Do it, and do it now,” she says. “It will give you someone to think about and care for, and will take your mind off the negative things in life.”

How does your pet help you focus on the positive side of life?

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