After Joe nearly lost his life as a child he dedicated himself to saving others. One day that that would include two hooligan hounds who needed a home together.
The miracle kid
At a very young age Joe had a traumatic experience that would shape his life forever.
“My life was saved when I was 7 years old,” he shares. “I was hit by a car, suffered severe TBI, and was in a coma for three weeks. Long story short I survived, regained mobility, and had minimal long term effects from the TBI.”
Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is the result of a violent impact to the head. While the effects can be short-lived, serious cases can lead to lifelong physical and mental challenges – even death.
Joe never forgot the team of professionals who restored him to health.
“I was surrounded with doctors, nurses, specialists that called me the miracle kid,” he recalls. “So when I was old enough – 17 – I enlisted in the Coast Guard, with my parents’ approval.”
Paying it forward by saving lives
Upon graduating from high school Joe enlisted the Coast Guard under the delayed entry program (DEP). DEP allows military recruits to commit to service up to 12 months prior to the start of their training.
Joe served in the Coast Guard from 1980 to 1984. His primary duty was search and rescue (SAR), and he served in SAR from duty stations along the East Coast. The young Coastie’s most memorable experience took place on a cold February day in 1983 when he helped save the crew of a fishing vessel off the coast of Rhode Island.
However, Joe is nothing but humble about his accomplishments.
“Saved a few lives,” he says, “just as mine was saved.”
Military life was everything Joe had dreamed about. It would mark the beginning of a decades long life of service.
“The reason I joined was to give back,” he explains. “Save a life or lives while serving my country. I made great friends. Learned a lot.”
After separating from service in 1984 Joe became a civilian police officer. In time he joined the civil service as a police officer with the 23rd Space Operations Squadron. Currently he works in the engineering department at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center, from which he plans his ultimate retirement after 39 years of federal service.
Of love and loss
Joe and his wife Sherrie have much in common. They are looking forward to their retirements. Both have an abiding love for dogs. And tragically, Joe and Sherrie each know the pain of losing a spouse.
“Myself and my wife Sherrie both lost our previous spouses unexpectedly in our arms,” Joe shares. “We both know how our dogs helped us deal with the grieving process. Keeping us grounded along with a reason to get up out of bed everyday. It’s just too easy to fall into despair when dealing with any tragedy. Especially while living alone away from family.”
The couple endured another painful loss early in 2019 when their beloved Catahoula dog, Bayou, passed away while they were on vacation. The pup went everywhere with them and was an integral part of their family. Despite their grief they wasted no time searching to fill the void left by their cherished pup.
“We immediately started searching for another Catahoula. It was our duty to rescue another pooch as we definitely had a void in our lives to fill,” Joe says.
At the time the couple was vacationing in Maine. To their surprise they found not one, but two Catahoulas – a bonded pair. However, there was a hitch: the dogs were in their home state of Florida, nearly 2,000 miles away.
Release the hounds
Joe called Big Dog Ranch Rescue, which had the two Catahoulas in their care. Since 2012, the rescue has adopted more than 100 dogs through our partnership and offers veterans in our program a reduced adoption fee of $50.
A friend told Joe about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. Three weeks later when he and Sherrie returned to Florida, the Coastie applied to our program and was approved.
The very next day Joe and his wife drove to Big Dog Ranch Rescue to rescue the dogs would become their hooligan hounds.
At the time, Dusty was four years old and had heartworms. Bella Jean was half his age, and otherwise healthy.
“Adopting a pet is like saving a life”
Dusty and Bella Jean were a bonded pair, which describes two animals who have a very close relationship.
Sometimes the animals are siblings, but more often they are united through circumstances that nurture a unique intimacy. They may have been raised in the same home, lived together as strays, or simply been kennel mates at a shelter for an extended period of time.
Immediately upon meeting, the two dogs behaved as though they had been with Joe and Sherrie for their entire lives. The Coast Guard veteran is still in awe at the unusual circumstances that led the couple to this bonded pair.
“To lose our Bayou and almost immediately find two Catahoula’s within days that were 1,800 miles from our position,” Joe recounts. “Meeting them weeks later is amazing. The most amazing thing is they ran directly to our truck having never seen it before. They ran right to the front door of our house also never have been there before. It’s a perfect fit.”
It is unsurprising that someone whose life was saved at a young age – and who has dedicated himself to saving others – would be an advocate for companion pet adoption. Joe is emphatic about why he chooses to adopt, not shop.
“Man’s best friend. Loyal trustworthy protective and they love you unconditionally,” he says. “Adopting a pet is like saving a life.”
Living with hooligan hounds
Joe is thrilled that he reached out to Pets for Patriots at the behest of his friend. He appreciates all the benefits of our program, including how we follow up with each adoption for at least a year.
“Oh my!” he exclaims. “The best organization ever. They’re there for you and your pet. It’s a team effort.”
But the team that is closest two his heart is the one that includes his two feisty rescue pups, whom he likens to angels.
“Honestly I think they have wings, if you get my drift,” Joe says. “They are a perfect fit. So loving, affectionate. They earned the nickname Catahouligans because they are dedicated, protective, and loyal. But sometimes they’re just hooligans!”
As a bonded pair Dusty and Bella Jean faced an uphill battle. Most adopters are not looking for more than one pet at a time, much less two large adult dogs – including one with heartworm. So perhaps it was fate when Joe’s beloved dog Bayou crossed the rainbow bridge that two four-legged dogs who were 1,800 miles away would find their way into his world.
The family has settled into a routine that is equally active and relaxing. Both dogs enjoy their twice daily, two-mile walks in a nearby open field. They are equally at home snuggling with Sherrie when she watches movies on TV.
Joe is a man who has dedicated his life to saving others, a mission impressed upon him at a very early age. Now that he nears retirement he is rescued once again, this time by two dogs for whom he was their savior as well.
“Best dogs ever,” he says. “Excellent dogs. Bella and Dusty filled a great void in our lives.”