Nick could not have known that COVID-19 would disrupt so many aspects of his life. So it was a welcome surprise when an adopted dog helped this Naval officer’s family maintain their spirits – and health – during the pandemic.
Nick enlisted out of a desire to serve. Currently he is an active duty Navy officer and works in the information technology (IT) and cyber field. It is a career that he loves.
“I’m in the IT/cyber field, and enjoy the technical challenges and training associated with my job,” he says.
Nick’s wife Melissa is a civilian employee in the Department of Defense where she, too, is a computer engineer. He credits Melissa’s love and support with enabling him to serve for 15 years – and counting.
The couple live in Baltimore, Maryland near Fort McHenry, the shelling of which was the inspiration for the Star Spangled Banner.
A defining moment
Nick has had many experiences and memories over the course of 15 years in service. Yet one event is so vivid in his mind it was as though it happened yesterday.
During his training Nick had to complete Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school. This intensive course teaches military personnel how to evade capture and what to do if they are held captive.
The course runs for 12 days, but Nick recalls one particular day in the first week of training.
“Day five in the field of SERE school,” he says. “My partner and I had been on the run in the woods for three days before being ‘captured’ and sent to the ‘POW Camp.’ We were tired, exhausted, dirty, and so hungry.”
Prisoners of War (POWs) are military personnel who are forcibly detained by an enemy government or military force.
“On the morning of that fifth day, after being kept awake all night, our captors have us doing some silly physical task in the camp. Finally, they make us stand at attention, close our eyes, turn around, open them, and the US national anthem gets played while the US flag is raised,” he says.
It was an emotional moment for Nick that he reflects on to this very day.
“It was just a school/training exercise and we had only been POWs for a few days, but that was enough to remind all of us in that class to not take our freedoms for granted.”
When COVID-19 came calling
Nick and his wife always wanted a dog, but they had a dilemma. Their busy lifestyles did not leave enough time or energy to devote to a pet’s proper care. And they knew that adopting a pet was a serious commitment.
“My wife and I determined several years back that we wanted the companionship and responsibility that a dog would bring to our lives,” he shares.
All that changed when the couple moved into a new home that was more suited to having a dog. So they decided that it was time to find a furry friend.
Little did Nick and Melissa know that the COVID-19 pandemic was just around the corner and a shelter dog would help them get through it.
Right time, right dog
Nick and Melissa explored all of their options and decided to adopt – not buy – a dog.
“We liked the idea of adopting a rescue dog from a shelter and we saw the [Pets for Patriots] poster present at the county shelter,” Nick says.
Pets for Patriots has been serving veterans and saving pets since 2010. Our work uplifts the lives of military veterans and saves the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats. One of those pets was Boomer.
At the time Boomer was a 60-pound, two year-old Labrador mix. He was in the care of Anne Arundel County Animal Control, which since 2016 has adopted dozens of pets through our partnership.
Nick and Boomer were adopted in June of 2019, just three days after the Navy officer was approved into our program.
Dog outranks his dad
Like many newly adopted pets, Boomer was about to get a new name.
“We actually changed Boomer’s name when we adopted him,” Nick says. “He’s now Admiral ‘Hops’ Hopper, in honor of Admiral Grace Hopper.”
Rear Admiral ‘Amazing’ Grace Hopper entered the US Navy Reserves in 1943 and is known as the ‘mother of computing.’ It seems fitting that the couple would name their new charge in her honor.
“My wife and I are both computer engineers,” Nick says. “Also, he [Hops] has a propensity for hopping up to meet new people.”
“Adopt, don’t shop”
Labs are known to be friendly and high spirited dogs. They have a boundless degree of love for their families along with being clever and trainable.
Hops, however, has an independent streak.
“While his stubbornness has been challenging and he tests our patience from time to time, Admiral Hopper has brought lots of love and joy to our lives,” Nick says. “He has kept us active during COVID-19 quarantine and our family evening walks are also quality time my wife and I get together.”
Hops may be stubborn, but he melts his Navy officer’s heart. Nick can easily list the things he loves most about his now 75-pound pup.
“His floppy ears when he runs. The way he tries to cuddle with you on the couch like he is a small dog. The way he can destroy any stuffed animal in 28 seconds flat,” he shares. “The funny way he snores.”
And Hops has helped Nick and Melissa endure the isolation of COVID-19.
A dog’s need for routine – including daily walks and play – has allowed the couple to stay healthy and spend more time together. Nick appreciates our help in bringing Hops into his life.
“The Pets for Patriots program provides great resources for those new to dog/pet ownership,” he says, “and the support has been outstanding!”
Hops has uplifted Nick’s household and helped his guardians stay healthy during the pandemic. Now the Navy officer has advice for others who may be thinking of adding a pet to their lives.
“Adopt, don’t shop.”
Read our article about COVID-19 and your pets.