Army veteran vows to save little shelter dog with big issues

Army veteran saves little shelter dog with big issues

Nina was a little shelter dog whose improbable story almost did not happen. Rescued from an uncertain past and beset with multiple special needs, she was given a second chance by an Army veteran who saw beyond her troubles and vowed to save her life.

Couple volunteers to ease the pain of loss

Charles served in the Army from 1967 to 1969 as a radio teletype operator, earning the rank of Sergeant. During his tour he had many memorable experiences, chief among them the “ability to meet many different types of people with different races, cultures, and religions from all over the country.”

Now retired, the Army veteran and his wife, Karen, live in New Jersey.

The couple began volunteering at the Monmouth County SPCA shortly after they lost their 15 year-old Labrador, Buddy. They walked and socialized the dogs to help fill the void created by his passing. Their volunteerism not only gave them an outlet for their grief, but improved the shelter dogs’ prospects for adoption.

While there, Charles and Karen met a four-and-a-half year-old little shelter dog, a Chihuahua mix named Nina. She had been at the shelter for several months and had a reputation for being dog reactive. 

The trouble with Nina

“Both in-house animal behaviorists had declared Nina as being the most dog reactive dog either of them had ever encountered,” Charles says. “Nina’s fear of dogs – likely caused by some prior trauma – is so intense it causes her to always be on the defense and to act aggressively when she sees other animals.”

Army veteran saves little shelter dog with big issues

Unfortunately, dog reactivity was not Nina’s only problem. It was discovered that she has a life-threatening illness: Addison’s Disease. This condition occurs when the animal’s kidneys fail to stimulate adrenaline and hormones correctly. However, a dog with this condition can live a normal, healthy life with proper medication and veterinary care.

Nina was originally rescued from Puerto Rico and brought to the Monmouth County SPCA. Ultimately she was adopted and lived with a woman for two years. However, the little pup’s dog aggression prompted the woman’s landlord to demand the dog’s removal from the complex.

Once again, this honey-furred dog with the sweet, quizzical expression was homeless.

Little shelter dog with big issues

Nina was brought back to the shelter following her eviction, and was in poor health. For the next several months she was under the close supervision of a veterinarian before being made available for adoption again.

Time marched on; Nina’s ongoing aggression and her illness became more serious issues. In response the shelter deemed her un-adoptable; they started to consider humane euthanasia. While it is not an option any good shelter takes lightly, sometimes it is more humane than a life of prolonged homelessness and suffering.

Charles, however, would not hear of it.

“Not on my watch,” the Army veteran says, before offering to foster the troubled pup.

“My wife and I began fostering Nina as the shelter agreed to look for a rescue. As they struggled, with no luck in finding a rescue, we fell totally in love with Nina and adopted her!”

As luck would have it, Charles had been approved into our companion pet adoption program for military veterans nearly two years prior, but an intervening move caused him to hold off on bringing home a dog. And Monmouth County SPCA has been an adoption partner since 2012, offering deeply discounted dog and cat adoptions to our veterans who save program eligible pets.

Diamond in the ‘ruff’

The animal people see in a shelter is not always the same as the animal once she is living in a less stressful environment. While Nina’s dog reactivity will always be a behavior Charles must manage, other more positive aspects of her personality began to emerge once she was adjusted to home life and felt more secure.

“We came to know Nina and realized how really sweet she is,” Charles says. “Her outward display of aggression towards other dogs was definitely due to her intense fear.”

Were it not for this compassionate couple Nina’s story would have likely ended long before she had the chance to reveal her kind, gentle nature.

Army veteran saves little shelter dog with big issues

A few months after Charles and Karen took Nina home she experienced an Addisonian crisis. She developed inappetence, had gastrointestinal problems, and collapsed. Veterinarians determined that her medication was no longer working.

“Thanks to a change in treatment, she now seems nearly as if she does not even have this terrible disease,” Charles says. “Her current prognosis is – with ongoing treatment – she can lead a normal and healthy life.”

Home sweet home

Nina is now six years old, happy, healthy, and eating well. A recent DNA test showed the little shelter dog is mostly Chihuahua, with mixtures of Chow, Hound and Spaniel.

“My wife and I have accepted the fact that Nina’s intense fear of other dogs will always be a part of her,” Charles says. “Because of this, whenever we’re outside, we make certain to always keep her on a very tight leash.”

Due to her past experiences Nina is often afraid to go outside. But she adores her backyard, visiting relatives, and even tolerates the occasional trip to the park. Her humans have accepted her – quirks and all – much like she accepts them.

“Inside the safety of her forever home, the place that Nina loves the most, she is the sweetest and calmest and most loving dog there ever was,” Charles explains. “She thoroughly enjoys her daily games of fetch, having her belly rubbed and just being a lap dog.”

A second chance at life

Companion pet adoption is all about mutual unconditional love. Animals enter shelters through no fault of their own. Many are victims of severe neglect or abuse, and carry those scars with them throughout their lives.

Military veterans are often ideal adopters. Many bear invisible wounds from their service – scars that fade, but never go away completely. It is this empathy for hard luck pets that inspires them not only to heal that animal’s wounds, but in doing so heal their own.

Charles is proud to have given Nina an opportunity she nearly lost: a second chance at life. And while that life may come with some long-term limitations, it is still fulfilling to see her embrace the simple things that give her joy. Her adoption makes clear that too many people look for a perfect pet, rather than a pet who is perfect for them.

The Army veteran is content with the way Nina has chosen to live her life, where she embraces the solace of her loving home.

“Mostly, she loves watching the world go by from her window seat, where she sits every day, happily and peacefully sunning herself.”

Charles’ pet adoption journey ran the gamut of experiences and emotions. Loss, volunteerism, and saving Nina’s life when it seemed all hope was lost. That Nina was available through Pets for Patriots was icing on the cake. It saves Charles money on food, quality veterinary care and other essentials he needs to give this little dog the best life possible. He recommends other veterans consider adopting their pet through our program. For those who may be unsure, he directs them to another authority.

“Just ask Nina.”


  1. kathy schoolfield

    I am writing for info. Is your shelter a “non kill” shelter? Is all your help volunteer. Do you have enough help? Are your dogs healthy? Is there any volunteer work I could do.
    Email me if you need help.

  2. Alyson

    Thank you so much for rescuing this sweet dog! What a face!! And thank you for your service.

  3. Mary Eaton

    TLC benefits, full circle.

  4. Clare Richardson

    Thank you for your service, both military and volunteering.

    I too have a shelter rescue, a cat, who like Nina is perfectly happy watching the world go by from her window perch. She meets me at the door when I get home from work, insists on attention. Haha. I don’t know what I would do without her.

  5. Gail M, Feline Adoption Rep

    Thank you all for your service. Our small shelter in Mass, is also a Pets for Patriots sponsor and we have re-homed a few lost souls as well. It is such a wonderful experience watching how an animal in need is matched up with a veteran who also needs companionship and watch the relationship blossom. You have all saved each other’s lives and it’s a wonderful thing to see. Thanks again.

  6. Crystal Anderson

    Thank you for your service – great story – I know Nina knows just how lucky she is by the love you and Karen have blessed her with.
    US Army

  7. John A. Smaldone

    Great story,

    Thanks for sharing Charles and Karen and thank you for your service Charles. Both of you are to be commended for what you have done for Nina. However, I am sure Nina has done a lot for the both of you as well!

    We adopted Copper, a male “Black Face Cur”, a beautiful friend. Copper was through “The Pets For Patriots” program, Beth and her crew have been great to us, we almost lost Copper but through the Grace of God and Beth’s help, Copper is still with us and doing great!

    Thanks again Charles and Karen,

    US Air Force

  8. Lois

    Thank you Charles for not giving up on Nina. Wonderful story!

  9. Janice

    Thank you for your service Charles and thank you for caring enough to adopt Nina and give her a wonderful life. Wishing you all lots of good times together.

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