Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match

Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match

Wilson and Emilie are something of an odd couple. He is a special needs Pit Bull. And she is an Air Force veteran who adopted him despite serious pet allergies and a lifelong fear of dogs.

Finding her way

When she first spoke to an Air Force recruiter Emilie was just 20 years old.

“I went to college first, for two years, but I didn’t have a passion for any career field so I was wasting money at school,” she says.

Service to country was part of Emilie’s DNA. She was born in Germany to Army officers and soon after the family was stationed to Italy. Two years later they returned to the states and settled in O’Fallon, Illinois.

Emilie’s parents were encouraging of her decision to enlist. But they suggested that she join the Air Force or become a Marine, like her brother. 

“Everyone was more concerned about him because he was infantry,” she shares. “Next thing you know I was signing up to join the Air Force active duty.”

Around the world

Emilie’s first deployment was to Misawa Air Base in Japan. There she served as a logistics planner, coordinating other service members’ deployments and ensuring that critical equipment was at the right place at the right time. 

Emilie loved Japan and its natural beauty.

The Air Force veteran remembers the landscape with the Pacific Ocean to the east and mountains to the west. After two years there she was stationed at Morón Air Force Base in Spain. 

The move to Spain was tough on Emilie. As a single woman in the military she faced challenges being accepted by her male colleagues.

“You’re not so welcomed into the circle as much,” she shares.

Emilie’s next assignment took her to Ramstine, Germany. Her brother came to visit during the Oktoberfest festival and then she was on the move again.

For the next four months Emilie served in Kuwait. In 2012 she separated from service and moved back to O’Fallon.

Life after the military was challenging. Like many veterans, Emilie struggled to find a job that made use of the many skills she acquired in service.

So the Air Force veteran tried college again, and then a spate of various jobs. Eventually she found work as a dispatcher for a barge company. 

“It’s kind of like what I did in the Air Force,” she explains, “except instead of planes – with barges.”

“…a dog like Buddy”

Emilie and her husband Chris settled into their daily lives, which included two cats that he had prior to their marriage. The couple agreed that once the cats died they would not have any other animals since Emilie is allergic to both dogs and cats.

Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match
Wilson and Buddy

“I wanted to be able to breathe in my own house,” she laughs. 

But after the death of one of the cats their house was simply too quiet. So the pair considered adopting a companion for their then 19 year-old surviving cat, Chimi.

As it happens the local humane society was participating in a Clear the Shelters adoption campaign. Emilie and her husband seized the opportunity to adopt a young cat named Churro. They thought they were done.

But a few months earlier Emilie’s mother, Diane, adopted a then seven year-old dog named Buddy through Pets for Patriots.

Emilie, however, was not a fan of dogs. She was bitten as a child and was fearful ever since. Still, there was something about Buddy’s sweet personality that charmed her.

“I would like a dog like Buddy,” she recalls thinking to herself.

So Emilie and Chris made up their minds. They would add a dog to their pack.

The Air Force veteran applied to Pets for Patriots and visited the Belleville Area Humane Society. Since 2017 the shelter has partnered with us to help the more overlooked animals in their care find loving homes.

Wilson passes the test

Wilson was transferred into the Belleville Area Humane Society from a local animal control. He was four years old at the time, had mange, and had been found lying in a puddle. Due to his medical needs he was put into foster care.

Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match

As luck would have it, the young Pit Bull mix had something in common with Diane’s dog, Buddy.

“He came from the same foster mom,” Emilie shares, “and I trusted the humane society people when I told them what I was looking for.”

Wilson had been adopted previously by a family, but that did not last.

“They ended up having to bring him back because they had small children,” Emilie explains, “and Wilson doesn’t recognize his own strength.”

In October of 2018, Emilie and Chris brought Wilson home for a two-week trial to see if he was a good fit for their household. They fell in love with Wilson and formally adopted him in November.

Allergies attract

Not long after his adoption Wilson began experiencing health problems.

“He would be gnawing on his paws a lot, and scratching his fur,” says Emilie. “They tried doing lots of things, and nothing worked for him.” 

Finally, the veterinarian recommended taking Wilson to an allergist. The tests confirmed that the Pit Bull was dealt an unlucky hand. 

“If it’s outside,” Emilie says, “he’s allergic to it.”

So an Air Force veteran with lifelong pet allergies adopts a dog who is allergic to nearly everything. Still, Emilie was grateful for the diagnosis.

“It was a godsend,” she says. “He started his steroids on Monday and by that Wednesday he was like a completely different dog.”

Wilson no longer gnawed at his paws until he bled. And he finally had relief from the excessive scratching. 

“He was so miserable, and it was miserable watching him go through that.”

Wilson gets daily allergy shots and steroid pills every other day. It is an expensive regimen, and the couple hopes that over time Wilson will need less medication to keep his allergies in check.

“Hopefully by this time next year, we’ll be down to once a month for allergy shots,” Emilie says.

Wilson truly hit the adoption jackpot. And perhaps in his own way he knows that with a mere glance he can sway Emilie to his will.

“I love his personality and his heart,” she shares. “He’s a Pit because when he looks you in the eyes it’s pitiful. You would give him anything in the world.”

Bow ties, not bans

Even though he requires extra care, Wilson’s allergies do not bother Emilie one bit. Her only complaint about her new charge is that he is a blanket thief. 

Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match

“He has a designated blanket and he steals the others,” she laughs.

The Air Force veteran describes Wilson as a gentle goofball who eats carrots out of her hands, curls up on her lap as she reads, and sports a mean bow tie. She concedes that Wilson is not a fan of this fashion accessory, but tolerates it just the same.

“Anytime he goes out in public he wears a bow tie,” she says. “It’s kind of disarming.”

Emilie knows what it feels like to be afraid of dogs. And she realizes that there are some people who are particularly afraid of Bully breed dogs, like Wilson. The simple act of having Wilson wear a bow tie helps soften the harsh image too many people have about these loving and loyal creatures.

One day at the dog park Emilie noticed a group of people who were afraid to enter when they saw Wilson.

“A boy who was around 10 years old told his parents the dog couldn’t hurt them because he had a bow tie,” she recalls. “People look at him and know that he’s a gentleman.” 

Don’t bully my breed

Emilie does what she can to educate people about dogs like Wilson, and the bow tie breaks the ice. 

“He’s helping get the word out there that Pit Bulls are not terrible dogs,” she says. 

Yet even people closest to Emilie and Chris were leery of the couple adopting a Bully breed dog. Still, the pair were undeterred.

“My husband’s family didn’t want us to adopt a Pit Bull.”

But after getting to know the dapper dog, Emilie’s sister and husband tease that they want to bring him home with them to New York City. Wilson is a gentle dog who would not hurt a soul. He is even afraid of the family’s 19 year-old cat, which Emilie finds a little amusing.

“If the cat is anywhere near one of us,” she says, “he will not go near us.”

Now that the Air Force veteran has embraced life with a special needs Pit Bull she is disheartened to learn how many communities still ban them.

“The sad thing about Pits, too, is that they’re illegal in a lot of cities.” 

Air Force veteran and special needs Pit Bull make unlikely match

Emilie hopes other people open their minds to adopting a Pit Bull. At the very least she wishes people would educate themselves and change their attitudes about them.

“They are not the horrible beasts that everybody thinks they are.”

Life is complete

After being adopted and surrendered Wilson has finally found the unlikeliest of homes. Not only with a human mom who was afraid of dogs, but one who is seriously allergic to him.

Emilie is pleasantly surprised at how her life took this fortunate turn.

“I never thought I would have a dog,” she confides.

Now the Air Force veteran cannot imagine life without Wilson. He is a part of almost everything the couple does, from yard work to Sunday drives. And he is the piece of the puzzle of Emilie’s life that she did not even realize was missing. Now, she and her family are whole.

“Our lives are complete now, we aren’t planning on having children,” she shares. “He brings such joy to our lives. He makes us happier.”


  1. Alyson

    Thank you for your service and for sharing your story. So inspiring!

  2. Nancy McIntyre

    Love it! I admit that I was afraid of pitties at one time…until, my daughter’s dog became pregnant with her next door neighbours dog-a pit bull. The mother became ill and didn’t survive, but left one puppy. I took him home and bottle fed him until he was ready to go back home. I grew very attached to him and the feeling was mutual. He was overjoyed to see me some months later. I wish I could say we were all living happily ever after , but he was put down ‘for failure to adapt’ . I was ‘unable’ to care for him, so I had no decision in the outcome.

  3. Emilie Wickline

    Update on Wilson’s mission. We took him to Ohio this week to visit my Aunt and Great Aunt (who was especially wary of him). Wilson was his sweet self and won them over and both my aunt and great aunt are much more pitty positive (they weren’t anti pit bull, just had never met one). I think my great aunt was actually trying to keep him because before we left, she was very concerned that he wouldn’t be comfortable in the back seat of my husband’s truck (he has a Dodge Ram 1500 crew cab so plenty of room in the backseat). We had to show her how comfy he was (he has his bed, 2 heavy blankets, 2 lighter blankets, and my husband’s pillow) before she let us leave!

  4. Mary Eaton

    Emilie and Chris,

    I am in awe of Wilson’s eyes. They speak 1,000 words. Thank you for opening your hearts and home to him. And the car door too on those Sunday drives!

    Your military service is appreciated as well.

  5. charles r. carpenter

    hi – great story – my wife and I were attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull in our driveway one night who was off it’s leash and soon both of us were afraid of that breed of dog until we started working at a local animal shelter – it was there that we overcame our fear working with many pit bulls soon realizing they are so misunderstood.

    Sgt. Charles Carpenter

  6. Ed

    Your story says a lot about your character! Overcoming challenges to take in Wilson is truly commendable! Best of luck to you and Wilson!

  7. Emilie

    Thank you Uncle John! You just need to come down more and visit him!
    Christine, I am also wearing the shirt, it’s just hard to see from my angle! He is so sweet.
    Thank you John. Yes, Pets for Patriots has been amazing to work with! I’m so thankful for what they do.
    Shannon, the allergy shots that the allergist sent us home with have worked wonders! He is now on one shot a month (and will be for the rest of his life). I give it to him at home (while he is eating so he is distracted! 🙂 ) He was on a grain free food but after going to the allergist, it was determined that it is skin allergies and not food allegories.
    Thank you everyone for the kinds words and support!

  8. Shannon

    My baby girl Pittie wears a pink sweater and has a purple, sparkly collar and also lives in my lap! She is a Pittie Princess who tried to eat our cats when we first got her. She’s so trainable and such a gentle love-bug!

    Regarding Wilson’s allergies, try going to and checking out their whole sections on skin issues for dogs. Some pretty remarkable recovery stories. Usually, changing to a grain free food is the first and easiest step.

    Good luck and thank you for your service!

  9. John A. Smaldone

    What a great story, Emilie and Chris it sounds like you both are going to have a wonderful life with Wilson, so happy for you.

    I am an Air Force Veteran, adopted Copper through Pet’s For Patriots, Beth and her organization do wonderful things for our veterans and especially so many animals in need. Congratulations again on the adoption of Wilson!

    John A. Smaldone
    Air Force Veteran

  10. Christine

    Dear Emilie, i noticed the shirt your husband is wearing. I have one too! Pitties really can be the best, sweetest smartest dogs around. I hope the adoption of them by good people like you and so many others will continue to change their image.

    It is the most heartwarming thing to see them in a loving home treated with respect, caring, understanding and love. Thank you and all my best ❤🐕

  11. Uncle John Chalberg

    So happy for Wilson and you! I am one of the folks that is still leery of him, but then again, that’s all dogs. They seem to know a FedEx guy when he is near! Uncle John

  12. Emilie

    Thanks! He also has a Christmas sweater, a St. Louis Blue’s jersey, a Hawaiian shirt, and a fancy winter coat.

  13. szemanek

    The bow tie idea is BRILLIANT! Nice, Emilie! And thank you to you and Chris for rescuing Wilson and giving him a second chance at a lifetime of love.

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