Companion dog brings new life to disabled Army veteran and three-time cancer survivor

Leonard and Noodles

A disabled Army veteran who fought back cancer and an adopted companion dog are living proof that caring for and loving one another can be the best medicine.

On June 6, 1966, Leonard began his military career with the Army. For the next few years he would be stationed in Germany, where he belonged to a special operations group. Yet that was not the service Leonard originally envisioned for himself. Leonard and Noodles

“I volunteered twice to go to Vietnam,” he says.

Twice the Army declined Leonard’s requests; he was far too valuable as a trainer. He taught other soldiers hand-to-hand combat, demolitions and weaponry, and took part in naval training as well. On June 7, 1969 – three years and one day after Leonard enlisted – he left his military career behind. 

Battling tragedies back home

Adjusting back to his previous civilian life came easily for Leonard.

The young Army veteran returned to his family home and took a little time to decompress from his military service, after which he went back to work for Ford Motors. Leonard remained there for nearly 30 years, until one day his career with the car maker ended in tragedy. During a moment of carelessness, an inattentive coworker – operating a crane – caused a 2,000-pound magnet to fall on the Army veteran.

“I shouldn’t even be alive today,” he says.

Leonard suffered significant trauma to his left leg and ankle, both knees, right shoulder and back. Since his accident he has had five back surgeries, a hip replacement, two knee surgeries and a shoulder operation. His serious injuries inevitably led to an early retirement, but his battles were far from over.

“I also beat bladder cancer three times,” the veteran adds.

Physically disabled, but able to love

With the marriage of their daughter and the veteran constantly in and out of hospitals, Leonard and his wife, Susan, began to feel like there was something missing in their lives. The void was putting a strain on their relationship.

The couple decided that it had been too long since they last had a canine companion, and agreed that it was time to open their home to a pet in need. Visiting an offsite adoption center for the Michigan Humane Society, they spoke with a staff member about possibly adopting a dogNoodles

Unknown to them at the time, the Michigan Humane Society is an adoption and veterinary partner of Pets for Patriots, offering a significant reduction in adoption fees and ongoing discounted veterinary care to veterans and military personnel who adopt program-eligible dogs or cats.

Despite their desire for a pet, the pair had some concerns because of Leonard’s physical limitations; they were unsure if he would be able to maintain the day-to-day responsibilities of having a dog.  But the shelter staff saw a caring and devoted couple who would make good pet parents, and told them about their partnership with Pets for Patriots. The nationally operating charity provides a range of benefits to veterans who adopt the most overlooked homeless dogs and cats, including adult and special needs animals.

The Army veteran and his wife left the shelter, contacted Pets for Patriots and found out that Leonard was eligible.

Oodles of Noodles

Susan fell in love with one particular dog at the Michigan Humane Society.

Tipping the scale at nearly 60 pounds, a Great Dane/Coon Hound mix named Tahoe wooed Susan with his relaxed demeanor. She would visit him everyday, in awe of his calm and laid back disposition. All the other dogs would jump and bark, but Tahoe would just sit and look right into her eyes.

On July 17, 2014, Leonard and Susan welcomed this new four-legged addition to their family and renamed him Noodles. He fit right in and wasted no time making himself at home. Leonard credits the dog with making a significant impact on his qualify of life.

“I think he’s helped me out quite a bit,” he says.

Thanks to Noodles, both Leonard and Susan have lowered their blood pressure. The big dog even helps Leonard with his strengthening exercises. While on his leash, Noodles will gently pull forward and the Army veteran will resist, allowing his arms to extend fully and stretch. This canine-assisted physical therapy has given Leonard a better range of motion, not to mention more confidence that he can develop the physical stamina needed to care for his new best friend. Leonard and Noodles

The overall mood in the couple’s home has improved as well. Noodles has cheered up the household and improved the couple’s relationship; previous tensions have all but disappeared. The big dog’s playfulness and constant demands for attention has won him a place in their hearts, and brought a tremendous amount of happiness into their home.

“He’s always bothering someone,” Leonard says with a laugh, adding, “He always wants to play.”

Like most new pet parents, Leonard and Susan enjoy spoiling their new charge. In addition to plenty of love, the big dog has plenty of toys as well, though that does not stop him from often preferring to play with “silly household objects.”

Several months into Noodles’ adoption, the couple no longer has concerns about Leonard being able to keep up with his new battle buddy. Owing to the dramatic changes in his home life, and physical and emotional health, the Army veteran believes other veterans should heed his tale.

“They take a lot of stress out of you,” he says about companion pets. “I can’t see being in a house without a love like that. You need to have something around. This is one of the nicest programs for veterans.”

Learn more about how pets are good for body, mind and spirit!


  1. Jennifer Lewis

    That’s my Dad! I am so happy Noodles can make some noise in the house since I’ve left. Perfect match! 🙂

    • susan rybski

      Noodles is a God send. We didn’t adopt him, he rescued us. We love him to bits. He has one fault, he snores way too loud and makes me laugh when I hear him.

      • Beth Zimmerman

        Susan, our rescue dog snores like a Mack truck! But like you, we love listening to her and it makes us smile.

    • Beth Zimmerman

      So delighted that we could ‘rock the house’ a bit, Jennifer! Your folks are awesome and we’re thrilled that Noodles has brought such positive change to their lives.

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