Patches is a cruelty survivor who is believed to have been rescued from a dog-fighting ring. She became a savior to a Navy veteran by helping him overcome the emotional challenges from his service – despite her own hardships.
There’s no place like home
Jim did most of his growing up in North Carolina. Yet the emotional connection to his childhood remains strong even though he now lives in Virginia Beach.
“It’s still home,” he says.
As a youngster Jim was involved with his local church and with sports. He played baseball, soccer, and football, and studied martial arts. During high school he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Jim started out in the Air Force unit, but after transferring to a different high school during his junior year he went into the Marine Corps ROTC. Then a good friend enticed him to consider the Army, telling him that he could go to boot camp during his junior and senior years.
The military was attractive to Jim, who admits that he was not always the most enthusiastic student.
“I was just one of those people who wasn’t into high school.”
A bout of mononucleosis stopped Jim from attending the second part of his Army training. He received an administrative separation and, once again, was looking for a way to enlist.
So Jim met with a Navy recruiter and asked the question he cared about most.
“When’s the soonest I can go to bootcamp?”
The rest is history. Soon after, the young teen started what would become a 20-year Navy career.
“Probably the best choice that I could have made for me,” he reflects. “How we train and operate has really benefitted me.”
A strange sailor
Jim says his experiences do not quite match those of other sailors, mostly because he did not spend as much time at sea. Navy friends ask teasingly, “What Navy were you in?”
The veteran began his service as a radioman specializing in communications. He was first assigned to the USS Blue Ridge, which spent most the time in its home port in Japan.
“We had three-star admiral on board, so a lot of what we did involved the politics of being in that area,” Jim says.
When not in port Jim enjoyed seeing other parts of the world.
“I got to see a lot of east Australia, Russia, India, Thailand, Malaysia,” he shares.
Navigating his way
Following his tour of duty on the USS Blue Ridge Jim received orders to join a unit in Tampa. Some of his work involved supporting cleanup after Hurricane Katrina, including converting police radios to military radios and rebuilding airborne communications.
In Tampa, Jim was the section chief for ground radio. This role took him off the ship for six to nine months out of the year. He was given the responsibility of organizing his team’s deployments to Iraq.
“As an E-6 I would be doing the planning, and getting the guys ready,” he explains.
Jim enjoyed the autonomy, and being on land rather than out to sea.
“It was a lot more suited to me and how I like to operate,” he says. “I enjoyed being on the ground.”
After four years with his unit in Tampa Jim was sent to Wallops Island, Virginia. He spent three years there, a place he describes as “kind of the middle of nowhere.”
Jim would subsequently serve out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story, the first joint base in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. He supported communications for a riverine squadron running operations in Iraq, and was deployed to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2016 Jim was given the opportunity to rest his sea legs when he was granted shore duty in Virginia Beach. He was eager to be back home with his children after 18 years of military service.
Shortly thereafter the Navy veteran and his family made a life-changing decision to adopt a companion pet.
Home is where the dog is
Being back home gave Jim the chance to spend more time with his children.
“I had missed a lot of that,” he shares, but once on shore duty, “I dedicated a lot of time just to spend with them.”
Noah and Laila, now 15 and 11, respectively, were a big part of the Navy veteran’s decision to add a dog to their pack. The family took a trip to the Norfolk SPCA where they met a Boxer mix named Patches.
Since 2015, the Norfolk SPCA has offered fee-waived adoptions to veterans for program-eligible dogs and cats. As a then three year-old, large dog, Patches fit the bill.
“Me and the kids both fell in love with her,” says Jim.
The family was saddened to learn that Patches was likely a cruelty survivor. It is believed she had been used to breed dogs for a dog-fighting ring. Jim never would have guessed that Patches had such a horrific past.
“She’s the least aggressive dog I’ve ever seen.”
Cruelty survivor helps her rescuer reclaim his life
When the family first brought Patches home she was skittish and unsociable. And her hip dysplasia made it difficult to navigate the house.
“It took her a while to get to know anybody,” Jim says.
While Patches’ hip dysplasia is not treatable, the family does what they can to make her comfortable. It has become routine to lift her into the car or, on occasion, up the stairs.
As a result, Patches has a few beds located around the house. Over time she has learned how to navigate her new environment. She can even open doors.
“She follows my son all over,” Jim laughs. “She kicks the door until he opens it.”
Patches is part of the family wherever they go. The cruelty survivor joins them on car rides – a favorite – camping trips, and trips to the beach. And naturally, she makes sure there are plenty of visits to the local dog park.
“She wants nothing to do with the water, but plays in the sand,” says Jim.
A comfort to all, a savior to one
Life today is busy for everyone in the household.
Jim retired from the Navy in March of 2018, after 20 years of service. He is currently working as a contractor for the Navy’s testing range while attending college full-time to earn a bachelor’s degree in communications.
The kids are more independent and can take care of mostly everything – even dinner. His daughter’s specialty is oven-baked pork chops and mashed potatoes, from scratch.
Jim says it gives him peace of mind to know Patches is there when Noah and Laila get home from school. Her presence has added a soothing energy to the household.
“She is just a calm dog, she has this personality where she likes to be around people now,” says Jim.
Patches is a big comfort to Jim, who at times is burdened by the hidden struggles that many veterans face.
“I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety related to deployment and parts of my service,” he confides. “I know having her around has helped with the everyday fight you have with mental health.”
Jim does not talk much about the decade of therapy, various hospitals stays, and medication to treat his depression and anxiety. At the same time he has no issues sharing his experiences in order to help others.
“We have people who are trained to help you,” he says to other veterans who are struggling.
Most importantly, while many veterans perceive seeking help as a sign of their own weakness, Jim believes it shows resilience. And these days, Patches is a vital part of the Navy veteran’s therapy. She has helped him reclaim a sense of normalcy in his life.
Veteran and pet, home at last
Jim hopes that other veterans learn about Pets for Patriots and how we help them adopt dogs and cats for mutual love, companionship, and healing.
Even animals who are cruelty survivors – like Patches – have the capacity to love and be loved.
And the Navy veteran appreciates the benefits we offer for everyday things, like food, supplies, and access to affordable veterinary care.
“That part of the program was such a great help,” he says. “We kind of had to figure out how to have a dog. They help you get situated after you adopted.”
While the entire family benefits from having Patches in their pack, there is no doubt that Jim and the cruelty survivor he rescued have benefited most. For her part, Patches knows that she is safe and loved. And Jim feel relieved of the emotional burdens of his anxiety and depression.
Above all, the Navy veteran is a fierce advocate for adopting, and not shopping for a pet.
“I prefer adoption,” he states. “There are so many animals in shelters that are just waiting to find a home.”
While Patches may have had a rough start in life, she leaves that in her wake.
“We couldn’t have been happier,” Jim says. “She’s part of the family. This is home for her now.”