She sat and waited in the shelter, seeming to know all she needed was a new coiffure and a bath. Named Proud Mary by the staff, the scruffy little dog was patient and ready for a new life. She seemed to know her rescuers would come along soon. As luck would have it, she was about to join an Army family.
That was the day Yanira and Christy walked into the shelter.
An Army life
Yanira is a former Army National Guardswoman and Army Reservist. She was raised in Puerto Rico, where in her culture a dog is a crucial part of the family. While serving our country, she often provided a safe and comfortable foster home for the dogs of fellow soldiers who were deployed. Finally a civilian again, the Army veteran decided it was time for a family dog of her own.
“You’ve got to be patient,” she told Christy. “It’s not about us choosing our dog. Our dog will choose us. Wait and see.”
Little did the pair realize that their vibe of love, goodness, and friendliness was like a halo over their heads – a beacon shining bright in search of a compatible, four-legged family member.
“When we walked into the second shelter, we were not on a mission to return home with a dog,” Yanira explains. “In fact, we assumed it would be a much longer process. But, there we were, standing in front of Proud Mary!”
Love at first sight, scruffy and all
The mutual attraction was almost overwhelming.
“I looked into the eyes of this scraggly ball of fur and she looked at me,” Yanira recounts, “and that’s when I knew that it was meant to be. She had found us…her forever family.“
This story actually started in 1992.
From her home in Puerto Rico, Yanira joined the Army National Guard right after the Kuwait Invasion. Like many others, she felt compelled to defend the American way of life. In time, the Army identified her extraordinary skills for an important assignment and Yanira became an integral member of a special team that provided humanitarian missions in Latin America. Fluent in Spanish, Yanira was able to network closely with the locals and provide medical services that were badly needed, but not readily available.
After her discharge from the Guard in 2000, Yanira moved to Florida and ultimately reenlisted in the Army Reserve. Once again, she served in a medical unit as a healthcare specialist to continue her tradition to give back to her fellow service members.
“I worked with many young warriors who made it back from Iraq, but their minds stayed there,” she says. “I was honored to be able to be there for my brothers and sisters, to listen, joke a little, and help bring them back to the real world.”
In 2004, the Army veteran was transferred to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk, Louisiana. She was to provide her invaluable skills as a Sergeant First Class in support of the returning troops. Some had severe medical and psychological injuries incurred during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Three years later, Yanira traded her uniform to become an Army civilian. Her love of the Army family and sense of community provided another opportunity to support her fellow warriors, though in a different capacity than she had in the past. Finally settled in a home, Yanira and Christy decided it was time to fulfill the tradition of having a dog in their family.
Committing to pet adoption
Yanira acquired a unique skill set through her extensive Army training as an instructor, medic, operations Sergeant, security Sergeant and self-described “paperwork specialist.” As luck would have it, these attributes were just what a “scraggly ball of fur” named Proud Mary both needed and craved. Renamed Mary Lou after Yanira adopted the then four year-old dog through the Washington Animal Rescue League partnership with Pets for Patriots, the little Terrier mix added instant joy to her new family.
“She brings laughter to boring evenings when she wants to play or catch our attention,” says Yanira. “She is our little watchdog — always alert and ready to tell us when a new noise or person enters our space. And she is our cuddle-bug…just wanting to snuggle up beside us or jump on our laps.”
Settling into a more structured life together has created an atmosphere of love, trust and cheerfulness that has solidified this Army family. Yanira describes the process leading up to her companion pet adoption as something of an emotional battle, though one with a very positive outcome.
“Emotionally prepare yourself for battle, an inner battle of letting go and receiving love,” she advises. “Shift your mind set and be present in this animal’s life. Logistically, do your homework. Choose a breed that will fit with your lifestyle – size, temperament, activity level.”
The Army veteran cautions that pet adoption isn’t right for everyone; many things must fall into place to be in a position to open one’s heart and home to a shelter pet in need.
“If you are confident that you have the love, time, attention, and money to care for your pet forever,” she says, “start the search process.”
When did you know that you were ready to adopt your pet?