Stephanie decided it was time to adopt another companion pet following the loss of her beloved dog. After visits with several shelter dogs it was a cuddlesome Pit Bull that she did not plan to meet who ended up choosing her.
The right stuff
Stephanie was introduced to the idea of enlisting in the military while she was still in high school. An Army recruiter saw potential in her to be a great soldier.
“I took him up on his offer to serve my country and see the world,” she recalls. “That decision changed my life forever in the best ways possible.”
During the course of “a tad over” 20 years in service Stephanie did indeed see the world. She served stateside, and in numerous overseas assignments that included two tours in war-torn Iraq.
The young solder enlisted as a 98J, non-communications interceptor/analyst. These professionals perform a wide array of signals analysis and intelligence that are critical to determining enemy behavior.
Stephanie acquired many memories over the course of her career, some more memorable as others. However, she has a fondness for a particular duty assignment at Fort Bragg.
“I think, though, my happiest days as a soldier was working in a facility on Fort Bragg called the Analysis and Control Element,” she shares. “I had the very best soldiers, my mission was critical, stressful, exhausting, but so satisfying. I will look back on that time at Bragg as one of the highlights of my career.”
That career would span just over two decades, during which time Stephanie was awarded the Bronze Star. She retired with an honorable discharge and began writing the next chapters of her life story, which in time would include a cuddlesome Pit Bull.
A purposeful retirement
Stephanie’s life is decidedly less stressful now, having since retired from both military and civilian employment. She spends time dabbling in work-related tasks and devotes considerable time volunteering with her local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
It is a commitment to other veterans that is shared by Stephanie’s husband, who served our nation as well.
“I am lucky enough to have retired to a beautiful small town called Elizabeth City, North Carolina,” she says. “I’m married to a fellow Army retiree, Doug, and we have a great life.”
Companion dogs have long been a part of Stephanie’s life. The recent loss of a dog she had for nine years was devastating.
“She was my best friend,” she says. “However, I knew I couldn’t be without a dog for very long.”
Like many would-be adopters the retired Iraq war veteran started her search online with her local shelter, SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina. Since 2017 the organization offers veterans in our program half-priced adoptions when they save program-eligible dogs and cats.
Stephanie learned about Pets for Patriots through a dedicated page on the shelter’s website – and was sold.
“I thought to myself, ‘hell yeah, I’ll absolutely adopt a dog through a program like that. A – I’m a patriot, B – I really wanted a new friend, C – why would a veteran not choose to adopt a new companion through this program?'”
In April 2022 Stephanie applied to Pets for Patriots and was approved. It would be almost another two months til a dog she had not even considered won her heart and soul.
Cuddlesome Pit Bull is ‘the one’
One Sunday morning the retired soldier asked Doug to accompany her to the shelter.
“There were several dogs there that I wanted to meet based upon their photos and descriptions on the SPCA website,” she recalls. “However, the dog that ended up choosing me was not on my list at all.”
At the time Orlando was a three year-old Pit Bull mix who had been at SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina for a few weeks. He was in medical quarantine until the shelter could test him for heart worms. Still, he found a way to engage Stephanie – in a staring contest, of sorts.
“He looked at me from behind the chain link fence of his enclosure and just stared at me, keeping eye contact with me for quite a long time,” Stephanie says. “After coming home from the SPCA that day, a voice inside me said, ‘Go back to the shelter to get Orlando.'”
The Army veteran trusted her instincts and returned to the shelter the very next day, this time without her husband.
A staff member brought Orlando out from his kennel and Stephanie took him on a long walk. That was all she needed to decide that “he was the one.”
So in early April 2022, Orlando – now named Hemi – left the shelter with his chosen person.
Hemi’s homecoming was not without challenge.
The first few weeks of an adopted dog’s new life are critical to learn how to live amicably with his human family. Fortunately, Stephanie was more than up to the task.
“But I’m a soldier,” she recalls thinking to herself, “and I can take on a challenge.”
Hemi was a bit of an escape artist at first. He was still learning his new name, and any passing dog was an irresistible attraction.
Stephanie learned the hard way that she and her husband could not let Hemi out of the house – even on their property – without a leash. But after a few months of tough love, routine, and discipline Hemi is finding his way.
“I truly believe my love and our very consistent daily routine together has changed his desire to run away,” Stephanie says. “Hemi has decided I am his companion, and I think he’s pretty stoked about it. Stoked enough to stay in our unfenced yard without bolting. I can only imagine things will get even better throughout the coming months and years.”
“…the greatest companion”
Our pet adoption program for military veterans works because it solves multiple problems.
The most vulnerable shelter animals find loving homes. Veterans’ lives – and those of their families – are transformed by the unquestioning love and acceptance of a companion pet. And shelters make room for another animal in need to be saved.
Stephanie saw the value in Pets for Patriots instantly.
“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” she says. “I have a new best friend, Hemi has a new, good home, and the SPCA has one less animal to worry about finding a good home for. Like I said, a win-win.”
Now that Hemi is more confident in his surroundings his personality is starting to emerge. He has become quite the cuddlesome Pit Bull, defying negative perceptions about his breed type.
Nothing makes the big dog happier than spending time with the soldier who saved him.
“Hemi makes me laugh, and he’s really a lover and wants my companionship. If I allowed him on the sofa, he’d probably never leave my side,” she says, adding, “but alas, no dogs on the sofa.”
And while Stephanie’s days of daily PT in the Army are behind her, Hemi makes sure that she gets a healthy dose of daily exercise.
Every morning Hemi, Stephanie, and her elderly mother take a walk around the neighborhood. But on Saturdays they trek four miles roundtrip to a downtown coffee shop, stopping in for a quick respite before they return home.
“For my Mom, who is 75, the four-mile walk on Saturday is something that makes her proud that she can complete, and Hemi is right along with us, wishing he could go another four or more,” Stephanie says. “Hemi is the perfect walker’s dog, so for my Mom and I, he is the greatest companion.”
In the months since their adoption Stephanie has become a vocal advocate of adopting through our program. She personally experiences the value of saving a vulnerable animal’s life, and doing so through an organization that is solely focused on veterans like her.
“It just makes sense to apply for Pets for Patriots if you truly desire getting a new dog to love, and love you back,” she says. “The process of applying is super easy, way easier than completing any military form.”
One of the biggest obstacles to pet adoption is a primary reason animals are relinquished to shelters, as well: cost of care.
We aim to make pet guardianship more affordable for military veterans over the lives of their pets by providing access to savings on high-quality veterinary care, pet health insurance, food, supplies, and other essentials.
Stephanie admits she would have likely adopted Hemi even without the reduced adoption fee and other savings. But she appreciates having some extra funds to enjoy life with her new battle buddy.
“You get to adopt a new friend at a discount, and you have money in your pocket to go get yourself and your new friend a drink at your local coffee shop after a nice, long walk,” she says. “Why haven’t you applied yet, soldier?”
Millions of dogs and cats enter shelters each year through no faults of their own. Some are surrendered by their families. Others are abused, neglected, or abandoned. All are worthy of a second – or third or fourth – chance at life.
Our program focuses on those dogs and cats who are most overlooked by adopters because they are most at risk of death or chronic homelessness. And while animal shelters provide necessary refuge, they are not substitutes for loving homes.
Shelter animals are no less valuable because they are homeless. We have served thousands of veterans – like Stephanie – who feel the same way.
“Thank you, again, for the opportunity to adopt Hemi utilizing the Pets for Patriots program,” the retired soldier says. “I’m honored to have served my country and now I have the honor of having a wonderful dog companion because of my service.”