After the passing of her senior pup Amy longed for the comfort of a canine companion. The Army veteran rescued a dog traumatized by abandonment who has made her family whole once again.
A legacy of service
Amy grew up in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania in a family where military service was a way of life. She decided to follow in the paths of her father and grandfather, both of whom served, and explore opportunities for her future.
“I thought it was a good way for me to be able to get an education,” she says.
Amy joined the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in high school. In the summer of 1997 and directly prior to her senior year she enlisted into the Army National Guard.
The young teen would train as a medic. These highly specialized professionals administer or assist in a wide range of routine, combat, and humanitarian medical care.
During the course of her six-year enlistment Amy served in a variety of roles. She provided on-site medical supervision for unit physical training exercises, administered drug tests, and rendered first aid for members of her unit.
After September 11, 2001, Amy was deployed to Germany where she was assigned to guard duty at various bases. She viewed these experiences as good opportunities to see a new country, and meet colleagues and friends.
“In the National Guard, you’re only with your people usually at least one weekend a month and then two weeks in the summer,” she explains, “so this was a chance to really get to know the other people in the unit as well.”
Finally in July 2003 Amy separated from service after completing her six-year tour of duty.
In the years that followed the Army medic worked as a laboratory technologist, performing essential tests for people awaiting transplant surgeries. She would marry, have two beautiful sons, and for 15 years the loyalty of a German Shepherd adopted from a Colorado animal shelter.
However, Amy did not know that the eventual passing of her elderly companion would lead to another four-legged soul: a Beagle dog traumatized by abandonment.
Love, loss – and love again
After losing her shepherd Amy did not think that she would adopt another dog.
Still heartbroken, the National Guard veteran came to realize that a dog was an indispensable part of her family. They all wanted to have a dog to play with, and to take on walks, trips, and other adventures.
In time the family decided to make space in their home and hearts for another rescue dog. The plights of shelter animals weighed upon them as their search began.
“There’s plenty of dogs in shelters that need homes, plenty of not just dogs but other animals, too. And so, I think buying a dog from a breeder or whatever, that was never an option,” Amy says. “We wanted to get a shelter dog and help a dog who is kind of stuck. So we kept our eyes open.”
One day while browsing online Amy’s husband discovered Pets for Patriots from the Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control website. Since 2016 the shelter offers fee-waived adoptions to veterans in our program, and has more than 50 such adoptions with us to date.
Amy learned about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans and liked what she saw. So like many people, she and her family started to explore various program-eligible dogs featured on the shelter site.
In time the family took notice of a docile-looking Beagle named Zoe, and decided to meet her.
Very, very sweet and quiet
The only information known about Zoe was that she was found in the woods.
No one knows how long the dog so traumatized by her abandonment was struggling to survive. She was considerably underweight when she was brought to the shelter, and had a limp and abundant dandruff.
It is unclear how the young Beagle ended up alone, left to fend for herself to survive.
However, one thing that was clear when the family visited with Zoe was that she took a shine to Amy.
Still, the whole family liked her, even with her extraordinarily timid demeanor. They decided to take a chance on Zoe – all that any shelter animal asks of their new guardians.
It was March 2022 and Zoe was going from homeless to home.
Still, Amy was struck by the young dog’s extreme timidity and silence. Beagles, in particular, tend to be very friendly and very vocal dogs. But not Zoe.
“I will say, she seems to have quite a lot of PTSD,” Amy says, referring to Post Traumatic Stress. “She’s very, very shy but very, very sweet. She’s a very, very quiet dog.”
Many people do not realize that animals can experience PTSD, just like people. Often it can be minimized with training, while severe cases will require medical intervention.
Fear and loving
Adjusting to a new home with new people can be stressful for any adopted pet. But for a dog traumatized by abandonment that adjustment can take months or years – even a lifetime.
At first, Zoe hid under chairs, afraid to explore her new home and family. Any noise or commotion frightens her.
“I’m not sure what she was going through, why she was by herself, but she definitely seems more fearful of men than women,” Amy observes. “But any kind of loud sounds or any kind of roughhousing does make her very nervous.”
But with the passage of time Zoe is starting to come out of her shell. She is finally comfortable enough to hop on the couch and sit beside Amy.
Amy set up a crate for Zoe to relax and accept food in the hopes of helping her acclimate. The Army veteran would lay on the floor nearby so as not to appear threatening, and gently pet Zoe when she seemed ready to accept affection.
While the Army veteran’s compassion and patience are helping Zoe de-stress, she is still a very nervous dog.
“The other day, we were playing ball in the yard – not crazy loud or anything – but I was gonna bring her outside with me. When she saw everybody playing, [she] turned around and went back inside,” Amy shares. “She still is not as comfortable as an everyday dog, but she’s getting there.”
Fortunately, Amy’s job managing clinical trials research for oncology patients enables her to work from home a couple of days a week. Zoe is a loyal companion and home office mate, and sits besides her savior all day.
There is no doubt that Zoe loves her other family members – the feelings are mutual – yet she is closest to Amy. The sweet dog traumatized by abandonment relishes her company, especially on their long daily strolls in the neighborhood.
“Once we started talking the walks, I feel like that was one of the things that made her more calm.”
The family’s experience adopting Zoe has changed their perspective on the complex lives of shelter animals. They appreciate life with an adopted pet even more now.
“I think that well it’s made us – as a family – really appreciate the dog that she is, also what a lot of dogs go through,” Amy shares. “Since then, my husband started volunteering at an animal shelter, walking dogs and that sort of thing.”
And the pair are even considering fostering dogs in the future. They hope to be a positive step in the journeys of hard-luck dogs seeking adoption.
For now, however, it is all about healing Zoe.
“…I’m not alone”
The veteran medic is glad that she rescued Zoe through Pets for Patriots rather than adopting on her own. She experienced how we build relationships with our veterans prior to, during, and long after adoption.
“One thing that I found actually really comforting [is] at first, after we adopted her, they check in with you, see how things are going and then just also mentioning their experience because at first she really wasn’t opening up at all,” Amy explains.
Pets for Patriots offers regular check-ins to support and advise veterans on the process of welcoming a pet into their households.
Amy found the in-shelter experience at Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control wonderful as well, noting that it was friendly, organized, and efficient.
However, it is our direct, personal outreach and sharing of experiences that the Army veteran finds most meaningful.
“The one person I talked to from Pets for Patriots said they had a dog who only really ever became comfortable with him and his wife,” Amy recalls. “I think it just made me keep my expectations in check and to know that I’m not alone.”
It is our ongoing support that Amy credits with helping her welcome a once traumatized abandoned dog into her household. She encourages other veterans who are thinking of pet adoption to do so through our program.
But in the end it is the rescued animal who makes all the difference.
We often say that healing happens at both ends of the leash, and this has proven true for Amy and her family. They needed a dog to love after losing another. And for her part, Zoe needed a compassionate, patient, and loving household with people who will not rush her recovery.
“I do think that a dog can really enrich your life and, and just knowing that the dog normally helps you, but you’re helping the dog is just – I don’t know,” Amy says, at a loss for words. “It’s just a great gift. To know that you’ve changed someone’s life and they’re changing yours.”