Long after she left the Army Joan developed a fondness for bully dog breeds. A senior Pit Bull with an “old soul” who had been starved of food and love would end up stealing her heart.
In 1976 Joan decided to enlist in the Army after she had spent five years living and working in Germany. She entered basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama. It had been one of the largest Army bases during WWII, and closed in 1999 as part of the government’s Base Realignment and Closure plan to streamline military base structure.
Joan chose a military occupational specialty (MOS) that would expand her horizons.
“I chose the military police corps because it sounded like a challenge,” she says.
MPs are uniformed law and order professionals tasked with a wide range of responsibilities on military installations worldwide. Their duties include everything from traffic control and crime prevention to police intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.
“…I was not easily intimidated”
At Fort McClellan Joan was a member of the Woman’s Army Corps (WAC), called “skirted soldiers” in earlier days. Despite its name, she recalls that the training was co-ed and included a few Marines, as well. One of her fondest memories involved a humorous mistaken identity.
“The funniest event was when I reported to Fort McClellan and new women were coming in to fill the basic training company. Everyone was speaking to me very slowly for weeks, then I asked one of my bunk mates what was going on,” she recalls. “Everyone thought I was German.”
After WAC basic and physical training Joan was ready to train in her chosen MOS.
“The MP course was self paced, and needless to say, I was on the fast track,” she says. “Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri was my first duty station, where I quickly realized that I had to prove my abilities 24/7.”
However, Joan is not one to shrink from a challenge. She hails from a military family and felt prepared for the rigors that life entails.
“I grew up with my father, who served under General Patton, and three brothers – all vets – so I was not easily intimidated.”
Soon Joan would transfer to Fort Meade, Maryland, where she was assigned to a combat MP company. The young soldier was on patrol duty whenever she was not in the field.
Pity the Pitties
After Joan separated from service she worked for more than 25 years as a criminal defense attorney. About two years ago she retired from what she describes as a “super stressful” career.
Over the years the Army veteran and her husband shared their fondness of dogs. For more than two decades the couple fancied Kerry Blue Terriers until they adopted Reign – their first bully dog.
“Reign had congestive heart disease,” she says, “and lived a great life.”
Many adopters who have a preference for a particular breed of dogs or cats remain loyal to that breed for life. But Joan had an open mind and a loving heart.
The Army veteran learned about the challenges faced by bully dogs.
“I became aware of Pit Bull discrimination, and when Reign crossed over the Rainbow Bridge I knew I wanted to adopt another Pittie,” she says. “Life is not complete without a dog.”
Saving an emaciated senior Pit Bull
Chumlee was in desperate shape when he first entered a Maryland animal shelter in early December 2021. He had a body condition score (BCS) of 1/9, in which his bones would have been visible without any fat layer and his waistline severely diminished.
However, that was not all.
Chumlee, since named Jerry, was believed to be about eight years old and presented with a host of medical challenges.
The emaciated senior Pit Bull had dental disease, a skin condition, and a mild case of entropion in which the eyelids roll inward and irritate the eyeballs. He has severe arthritis in his rear limbs for which he needs lifetime treatment just to keep him comfortable.
Thankfully, our partners Baltimore County Animal Services gave the ailing older dog the care he needed to recover. With good nutrition his BCS normalized. He was given treatment for his various skin infections, and medication to ease the pain of arthritis.
Since 2013 Baltimore County Animal Services offers our veterans in our program half-priced adoption fees when they rescue program eligible dogs and cats. Even for animals like Jerry whose care can be costly.
Now all the once emaciated senior Pit Bull needed was a gracious home.
Oldies are goodies
Joan learned about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans online. It was a quick decision to seek a pet through any of our various shelter partners near where she lived.
“There are so many dogs needing great homes,” she says, “and you guys make it so easy.”
Most people shy away from senior pets, unaware of the many advantages they have compared to younger animals.
More often than not, what you see is what you get. Mature animals are typically familiar with household routines and know basic obedience. And senior pets are often rejuvenated when given that second – or third, fourth, or fifth – chance at life.
So just two days after being approved into our program Joan welcomed Jerry home. It was as though he had been there for years.
An “old soul”
When it was time to leave the shelter the once emaciated old dog knew exactly what to do.
“Jerry jumped into my car and had a feeling we have always known each other,” Joan recalls.
The Army veteran took her new charge to the veterinarian shortly after his adoption. Jerry is believed to be closer to 10 than to eight, not that the years matter to Joan.
“More important to spoil him,” she declares.
And while Jerry’s arthritis slows him down it does not stop him from following his savior everywhere, always with a wagging tail.
Still, Joan confides that she did get a set of dog stairs so that Jerry could get onto the couple’s bed.
The pair could not have found a more perfect canine companion.
“Jerry is like an old soul who is in sync with my husband and I,” Joan explains. “He naps, walks slowly, and is not interested in anything or anyone but us.”
Most of Jerry’s physical ailments are either healed or being managed. Remarkably, he shows no other signs of the tragedies that befell him prior to his rescue. And Joan – who never shrinks from a challenge – is rewarded with a wonderful dog who seems that he has been with her forever.
“Thank you for everything. Jerry is loving life,” she says. “I think we must have been together in a former life.”