Big-hearted Navy veteran rescues a special needs senior dog “to save a life”

Big-hearted Navy veteran rescues a special needs senior dog "to save a life"

Deirdre has a loving heart. So it was no surprise that she chose to save a life and adopt a pint-sized senior dog with various medical challenges.

“…how blessed we are”

It was 1985 when Deirdre decided to enlist in the Navy. The lure of seeing the world while serving her country was too great to resist.

“When I joined the Navy,” she recalls, “all of the advertisements were, ‘Join the Navy, see the world.’ I was able to do just that without ever serving on a Navy vessel.”

Deirdre was active duty during a time when women were not permitted in combat. Her particular military occupational specialty as a cryptologic technician could only be performed on combatant ships.

However, during the course of Deirdre’s military career she still got to see the world. Through various overseas assignments she acquired a newfound appreciation for life in the United States.

“The most memorable time in the Navy was realizing how blessed we are in America,” she says.

“In America, even poor people can get healthcare, unlike in the Philippines. Central heat and air is almost the norm, unlike in some places in Europe, or water that we could drink out the faucet. And last but not least, paying four dollars a minute to make a call or even having a phone in your home.”

In 1996 Deirdre separated from service with an honorable discharge, and rejoined the civilian world. Currently she works at an Atlanta-area university and is the primary caregiver to her disabled adult son who is a veteran, as well.

“…to save a life”

In July 2022 the Navy veteran decided to adopt a companion pet.

Deirdre learned about our program and how it works from the website of one of our local shelter partners, Lifeline at Dekalb County Animal Services.

The organization is one of three Lifeline shelters serving the greater Atlanta metro area. All partner with Pets for Patriots and offer veterans in our program fee-waived adoptions when they rescue eligible dogs and cats.

Like many veterans we serve, Deirdre believes that adopting a pet is a noble act.

“I chose to adopt a pet in an effort to save a life, all the while knowing a dog from the shelter would have some level of PTSD,” she says. “I completely understand PTSD although I’ve never been in combat.”

There is a common misperception that only combat veterans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

However, there are many noncombat stressors that contribute to PTSD, such as training accidents, military sexual assault, and witnessing severe injury and death.

Adoption helps pets – and people, too

It never occurred to Deirdre to shop for a pet. She believes – as we do – that to adopt is to save a life.

“I think the difference between purchasing a puppy and adopting a dog is that purchasing a puppy is only beneficial to the purchaser. I think adopting a dog is beneficial to both the adopter and the dog,” she says.

The Navy veteran visited Lifeline at Dekalb County Animal Services’ website, where she first learned about Pets for Patriots. Deirdre appreciates our exclusive focus on military veterans as well as the benefits we provide.

“I decided to adopt through them because it’s a service for veterans and I wanted to support the organization,” she says. “The requirements of which type of dog could be adopted from a shelter also put my mind in gear about the service seeming to be more for the dogs, while also servicing veterans.”

Our program inspires veterans to adopt those dogs and cats who are most overlooked for adoption. Specifically, adult animals, those with special needs, the chronically homeless, and large breed dogs.

As it happened the Navy veteran’s desire to save a life could not have benefited a more worthy recipient.

A tiny special needs dog

It was July 2022 and Iris was a then 10 year-old Chihuahua mix.

But the pint-sized pup who weighed barely 12 pounds came with big challenges. He has a grade four heart murmur, alopecia, and corneal opacities that can lead to blindness.

Deirdre – with her loving heart – was undeterred. She felt empathy for this misbegotten dog and, on the same day she was approved into our program, made their adoption official.

We often say that adoption saves lives at both ends of the leash.

Iris was spared the prospect of prolonged homelessness. Deirdre is rewarded for her decision to save a life by witnessing her petite charge learn how to be a dog once again.

“It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling that I have provided a level of comfort, safety, warmth, and love to Iris so much so that he’s being able to find himself and get back to who he really is.”

“…changed my life for the better”

There is a ‘3-3-3’ rule often cited for how an adopted dog acclimates to his new home.

Still, every pet is an individual. Some take longer than others to become fully confident in their new lives owing to a range of factors, such age, prior adoption history, or previous abuse.

Every day with an adopted pet is an opportunity to learn just a little more about him. Deirdre is watching Iris blossom right before her eyes.

“Adopting Iris has changed my life for the better. It really does feel good to see the daily benefits of literally saving a life. Iris is no longer skittish, his coat looks healthier. He runs, gets excited, and even wags his tail,” she shares.

Part of Iris’ recovery is learning how to convey his needs and wants. His assertiveness is perhaps the one thing that endears him most to Deirdre.

“What I love most about Iris is he is truly a communicator,” she says, “and that is my understatement of the day.”

Iris howls when he needs to relieve himself. He barks if he is hungry and his dish is empty. A low growl will do the trick if he is getting a belly rub, but wants some other type of attention.

And that is not all.

“When it’s time to travel in the car and he’s ready, he will run around the car and bark then stand at your feet and bark again, just in case you didn’t hear him the first time,” Deirdre says.

While Iris’ newfound voice is joyful, it is his embrace of his new life that is most gratifying to Deirdre. She is bearing witness to what it means to save a life when adopting a companion pet.

“It brings so much joy to me that he’s becoming a regular dog,” she says, “instead of a shelter dog suffering from people PTSD.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    A wonderful share to be appreciated by we, the readers. Bless you for taking in Iris and placing him lovingly under your care Deirdra. He seemingly has blossomed upon joining your family.
    I appreciate your years of service.

  2. Candis

    I love this story. There are so many benefits to having any dog, but dogs with special needs are special indeed. Congratulations to you both!

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