Having a new home has special meaning for active duty military, who are often required to move from place to place. For one military couple it would be the addition of an abandoned Pit Bull who made their first real home together complete.
Taking a chance
Pat lives with an open mind and heart. She made a career in banking and finance, and had not previously thought of joining the military – despite having two brothers who served in the Air Force and Marines, respectively.
However, that chance came when Pat’s husband, Aaron, decided to re-enlist after serving in the Army. He spoke to an Air Force recruiter who enticed Pat to join, too.
The benefits and possibilities for career advancement seemed limitless. But there was one thing holding Pat back.
“I’ve lived in California my whole life,” she explains. “I definitely love California a lot and I was like, ‘You know what? Why not take a chance. Join and see, what’s the worst that could happen?'”
Pat weighed what felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity against staying put. So together with her husband, she took a chance and enlisted in the Air Force.
Open minds lead to new experiences
It would not be long til Pat and Aaron made a new home overseas, albeit a temporary one. After basic training and during the height of Covid Pat was stationed in Aviano, Italy, where she served as security forces personnel.
In time Pat would return stateside for her next duty station at Moody Air Force Base (AFB). There she was reclassified and trained as a personnelist.
These professionals are similar to civilian human resources personnel. They are responsible for a wide range of administrative duties that impact service members and their families.
Personnel specialists assist fellow service members with career advancement and training, ensure compliance with regulations, and conduct intake and exit interviews, among other vital tasks.
Even in this administrative role Pat found herself on the move. While stationed at Moody AFB she has deployed on various short-term assignments to Guam, Palau, and Puerto Rico.
In Palau, Pat enjoyed assisting in taxiing a C-130 Hercules – wearing full headgear and guiding the plane. During an assignment to Puerto Rico she witnessed an air team jump from the C-130 aircraft in which she was riding.
“I know most people won’t think it’s exciting, but when you’re sitting there under the hatch, the C-130 opens up and you get to see a team jump out, and that was really, really exciting,” she recalls. “It was a nice rush.”
These thrilling experiences would not have been possible had Pat not taken a leap to join the Air Force. Still, it was not easy to leave behind her family, friends, and weightlifting partners.
“I’ve always had a pretty open mind, so I don’t think the military necessarily changed my view in any way,” Pat says. “It just gave me the opportunity to leave California – which, to be honest, I really didn’t want to leave California – but that was an experience. It was an experience being in the Air Force and with my husband, on our own without our families being so close to us.”
Love a bull
Pat grew up with dogs in her family, but never had more than one at a time until her older dog began to age. Her veterinarian suggested adopting a dog to serve as a companion to her senior pup, whom she had since high school.
“Dogs have always been a constant in my life,” she shares. “Ever since I was little, we’ve had family pets.”
Pat’s boyfriend at the time thought that a Pit Bull would be a good fit.
However, Pat was skeptical; she was familiar with stereotypes of bully breeds. But in the spirit of always pushing her boundaries, she went out of her comfort zone and gave a Pit Bull named Homer his new home.
Almost instantly Pat’s skepticism melted away.
“He completely changed my view of Pit Bulls,” she says of Homer. “After that I became a huge Pit Bull person. I absolutely love Pit Bulls.”
“…sweetest thing in the world”
Years later Pat and Aaron would meet and marry. In 2018 the couple adopted a Pittie of their own named Ellie.
One day when Pat was on her way to work at Moody AFB she saw an abandoned dog. The terrier mix was on a stretch of road where, tragically, many people abandon their pets.
Little did the Air Force veteran know that chance encounter would be the beginning of a new home for the hapless pup and a new life for Pat’s family.
The Pit Bull mix was a routine fixture of Pat’s daily commute. Each day she stopped to feed him.
On one occasion Pat ran out of dog food. Luckily she had a special recipe in her car of sweet potato, ground turkey, and spinach. Pat’s coworkers always joked about her unique food choices, but Thor gobbled it up.
The Air Force veteran saw Thor’s love for her unconventional meal as a sign.
“I was like, ‘See? It’s good, right?'” Pat laughs. “He was just so adorable. It’s like he has this little cuteness to him, it’s the sweetest thing in the world.”
That was the moment when Pat knew she found a kindred soul in this big, speckled, big-eared dog on the side of the road.
No place like home
Finally there came a day when one of Pat’s coworkers captured the stray dog and took him to a local veterinarian. Following a checkup the woman and her husband agreed to foster the dog on behalf of Humane Society of Valdosta-Lowndes County.
The couple named him Thor because the big dog embodied the mythical god’s strength and perseverance.
There was little information of Thor’s life before he was abandoned. However, he had scars, markings in his fur, and a tattered ear – likely the signs of previous abuse.
Pat and her friend stayed in touch while Thor was being fostered. The steady stream of updates and pictures confirmed the Air Force veteran’s determination to give the wayward dog a new home.
Pat and Aaron learned about Pets for Patriots and how our program works through Humane Society of Valdosta-Lowndes County, the shelter through which Pat’s coworker was fostering Thor.
The Air Force veteran appreciates the many benefits we offer and only wishes that our organization was promoted on military bases to spread the word.
“If we knew more on the base about it, a lot more people would be adopting through that program,” she says. “Adopting a pet is great for your mental health. This program is really good and helps other people, our fellow brothers and sisters in arms, link up with a pet to get a nice companion and passionate understanding.”
“I want love right now”
Pat was as determined as ever to give Thor a new, forever home. She and Aaron decided to foster him to see if he would fit into their family. Their chief concern was how Ellie – typically a solitary dog – would react to a new dog in the house.
The couple decided to take Thor and Ellie to their local dog daycare and observe them together. Generally, Ellie is neither affectionate nor playful, but Thor respected the older dog’s boundaries.
“Thor knows how to keep himself entertained with balls, toys and stuff,” Pat explains.
The wayward dog’s foster did not last long. After one week Pat finalized the adoption.
Thor had a new home and it has not been a dull moment since. He brings newfound energy into the house with his spirited, playful demeanor.
Like most companion pets Thor lives in the moment – a reminder for his guardians to occasionally do the same.
“Like when you’re sitting on the couch and trying to read a book, he crawls on your lap in your face,” Pat shares. “You’re just like, ‘I want to read my book.’ He’s like, ‘No, I want love right now.'”
Set for success
Thor is adapting well to his new home. However, Pat and Aaron soon learned that he is startled easily by new people and novel noises, like a bouncing basketball. He started to show signs of resource guarding around food, toys, and even his spot on the couch.
A dog who is protective of food, for example, can become possessive of other items of value – including people.
Upon learning of Thor’s behavior we invited Pat to apply to our pilot dog training program. It is funded by a generous grant to address serious behavior issues that, if unattended, would likely lead to a dog’s surrender.
Training sessions were conducted remotely with a dog behaviorist and trainer who uses positive-reinforcement, force-free methods. Both Pat and Aaron participated, with Aaron continuing the sessions during Pat’s deployments.
While Thor remains a work in progress, he has made tremendous strides. Thankfully, he has a new home with people who are committed to his success.
“He’s changed our life,” Pat says, “but we do have to work around the fact that Thor is not used to people. So having people over is always a little bit of a challenge.”
Pat and Aaron were quick to see beyond Thor’s fear-driven behaviors. Together – with occasional assists from sister Ellie – they are creating an environment where Thor can become his best. Neither dog wears a prong collar any longer now that they live in a force-free household.
Thor is among the lucky ones.
After an early, hard luck life the wayward hound found a military couple who have the grit, determination, and discipline to help him reach his potential. And thanks to expert training Pat and Aaron have new tools to reward good behaviors and discourage unwelcome ones.
Training has strengthened the bonds between all members of the household.
“He’s just a sweet affectionate boy and I’m glad that whatever he went through in his past, he’s healing from that,” Pat shares. “He’s getting closer to healing and trusting me, you know? And that’s a huge gift for me, for him to trust me after everything he’s been through.”
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