Jeff has always believed in doing the right thing as his guiding philosophy. Eventually that attitude led the Marine Corps veteran to save a shelter dog who would forever change his perspective on adoption.
A legacy of service
For generations Jeff’s family has been committed to military service. Both his father and uncle served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. His grandfather and great uncles served in WWII, and three of his cousins are Marine Corps veterans.
“I’m not gonna say that it’s the family business,” he says, “but there’s definitely a strong family connection to service.”
From childhood Jeff knew that he would continue his family’s noble legacy. And unlike many childhood wishes that evaporate in adulthood, this one came to fruition.
“I always wanted to be a military pilot,” Jeff shares. “It’s what I wanted to do since I was knee-high. So that’s always been my life’s dream, and so I did ended up flying in the United States Marine Corps for over twenty years and loved every minute of it.”
It turns out that doing the right thing is just part of this combat-tested veteran’s DNA.
“Live every moment”
In 1995 Jeff came on active duty and 23 years later – in 2018 – would retire as a lieutenant colonel. Piloting Marine aircraft was his primary occupational specialty, but he served in various operational and strategy roles as well.
During the course of Jeff’s military service he deployed overseas four times; each was a unique experience.
Jeff was at sea for six months as part of a Marine expeditionary unit based out of San Diego. The assignment weaved throughout the Gulf and Asia Pacific, allowing him to see places he would have not otherwise had the opportunity to see.
A brief deployment to Okinawa, Japan, was memorable for an aerial tour of some of the most famous Marine Corps battles, including Iwo Jima and Peleliu.
However, it would be Jeff’s two combat tours in Iraq that provided some of his most enduring memories.
“My two tours to Iraq were fantastic. The first one was for Iraqi Freedom One, [the] initial surge into Iraq and that was a fantastic, unique experience,” he shares. “I was the senior tactics instructor of my squadron, so leading Marines in combat in that season was fantastic.”
It turns out that Jeff’s final deployment of his long military career would be in Iraq, as well. His unit was part of the surge and formed a strong working relationship with the force reconnaissance unit. Together they conducted numerous raids on targets in the Al Anbar province.
After more than two decades in the Marine Corps Jeff learned how precious, and fleeting, life can be.
“Live every moment in the moment because you never know what’s about to happen,” he says. “Plenty of friends and colleagues didn’t make it back on a certain day and that sticks with me forever. That’s one of the biggest lessons. Don’t take anything for granted because you never [know] what the next day is.”
Doing the right thing
Jeff was living in Washington, DC when he separated from service, but decided to settle in Alpharetta, Georgia to raise his young family.
“My wife is a nurse so she gets a job pretty much everywhere she goes,” he shares. “Then for me, I hit the ground running.”
It was not easy to start fresh in a new city with few connections, and Jeff networked relentlessly to find a job in operations. He knew that the skills he learned in the Marines could translate to civilian life. Still, it was not easy.
“Obviously transitioning from the military is a challenge for anybody unless you’ve got a job waiting,” he says. “I didn’t.”
The retired veteran had a positive attitude, but lacked a large, readily available network to leverage.
“So that exacerbated the challenge, but at the end of the day, I’m the kind of person who believes that [if you] do the right things in life, good things will happen to you.”
Jeff’s hard work and positivity paid off. He landed a job as director of field operations for a technology company, where he has been twice promoted and now serves as its vice president.
“In many cases it’s very similar to the military,” he observes. “Everybody has a job to do. Everybody puts their heads down and they work together as a team and we make things happen. And we’re one of the leaders in our industry. It’s exciting times.”
Once settled into their new home Jeff’s family realized that something was missing from their lives: a second dog. Years prior when Jeff and his wife were engaged they bought a yellow Lab puppy named Baxter, who would live for 17 years.
When Baxter was nearing the end of his life the couple decided to look for another dog. They aimed to both ease Baxter’s journey with a canine companion and help them cope with their inevitable grief.
This time, however, the pair chose to adopt and not shop – and opted for a shelter dog. It was spring of 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic. Many shelters struggled to balance the surge of new adopters with Covid protocols that restricted in-person visits considerably.
Despite these challenges Jeff and his family knew that they would be doing the right thing to save a rescue dog.
Fostering saves lives
At the time Bella was a two year-old mixed breed dog. She was heartworm positive and in the care of a shelter in Alpharetta.
Shelter staff arranged for Jeff and his daughters to bring Baxter for a meet-and-greet with Bella. The family decided they would foster Bella for two weeks prior to adopting her in order to ensure that it was a good fit.
Jeff recalls how meeting the mixed breed pup was as close to love at first sight as one could get.
“[Bella] wagged the tail all over the place and wanted to be there with you,” he shares.
“At that point, it’s like, ‘Alright, yeah she’s it.’ Great temperament, great demeanor. Just seemed happy, happy as all get out.”
Many would-be adopters shy away from adult pets, much less those with medical conditions that require treatment or ongoing vigilance. Jeff was sympathetic to those animals who are overlooked because of health conditions, even temporary maladies like heartworm.
The shelter was upfront with Jeff about Bella’s treatment and the care she would need to recover. To sweeten the deal a local veterinary practice covered the cost of the medication, which can be considerable.
The Marine Corps veteran knew that fostering Bella with the prospect of adopting her was doing the right thing by all involved.
“She was a fantastic dog,” he says, “so they gave me no reason to say ‘no.'”
At the end of May – after two weeks fostering Bella – Jeff made the adoption official. Bella was now part of the family.
“Hey, how you doing?”
Jeff recommends our companion pet adoption program to other veterans, calling our service “phenomenal.” He appreciates the personal interactions and our mission to make meaningful matches between veterans and shelter animals.
“Pets for Patriots really does care about both pet and the patriot,” he says, “and that shows.”
The retired Marine especially loves how easy the program was to use, as well as the constant stream of communication and regular check-ins.
“I love the communication,” he says. “There was a constant stream of communication when we were going through the adoption process and afterwards. I had people reaching out to me from Pets for Patriots in a month basis, couple month basis. ‘Hey, how you doing? How are you and Bella doing? How does she fit in with your family?’ The periodic check-ins I thought were fantastic.”
Bella the beautiful
However, Jeff’s first foray into companion pet adoption did not last as long as he had hoped. Three years later Bella developed intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD. She progressed to stage 5, paralyzing her hind legs. It is an age-related, degenerative condition from which she could not recover.
Still, Bella left an indelible imprint upon Jeff and every member of his family.
“She had a great little smile and she always wanted you to rub her belly,” Jeff recalls. “So you’re gonna be sitting there and on the couch and she would come up and hop on the couch right next to you and roll over like, ‘Hey, it’s time to rub my belly.’ And she did that with everybody. That was her way of doing things.”
Although Bella’s life was cut tragically short her impact will last forever with Jeff and his family. True to the Marine veteran’s nature he sees the positive side of her too-short existence.
“We didn’t have as much time with Bella as we thought we would, but just as much as she touched our lives, we’re confident that we touched hers,” he says. “Very happy dog the entire time, so we’re blessed to have had the opportunity to live in Bella’s life. Not so much her living in our life, but the opportunity for us to live in Bella’s life.”
“Rescue, rescue, rescue”
As Covid waned and everyone in the household went back to in-person work and school, the family searched for another rescue dog. It was soon after Bella’s passing and the house without a dog’s love was an empty one.
Although Jeff found a dog named Dixie through another organization, he has a newfound appreciation for the work that so many nonprofit organizations, including ours, do to save and enhance lives.
“What I love is just all these groups who have a common goal and common mission. And they may not directly coordinate with each other, but they’re absolutely complementing each other,” he says. “At the end of the day, their goal is to match people with pets.”
The Marine Corps veteran continues to live his life knowing that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.
Baxter’s passing opened the door for Jeff to consider adoption, which is absolutely lifesaving to animals and transformative for people, too.
Now the retired Marine is an unabashed rescue advocate.
“The other thing I would say is that, you know, rescue, rescue, rescue,” Jeff says.
“While everyone might want their own little puppy that they’ve only owned, trained, this is an opportunity for you to change the dog’s life, your life, or a cat’s life, or a pet’s life that we may never have the opportunity to and I will tell you that it will change you more than you’ll change them.”
There are many unknowns in life, but Jeff is certain about at least one thing.
“Were going to be a rescue family forever.”