Disabled Army veteran overcomes grief with dog who lost everything in major hurricane

Disabled Army veteran overcomes grief with dog who lost everything in major hurricane
Military career ends for disabled Army veteran

It was a dark day when James was medically discharged from the military. The now disabled Army veteran enlisted when he was just 17 years old and envisioned a long career in service.

James’ first three years were with the Virginia Army National Guard, where he served as an MP (military police). MP’s have wide-ranging responsibilities protecting United States military installations all over the world.

After three years James was activated and assigned to the 2nd MP Company (Co), 2nd Infantry Division. He was eventually stationed to Ft. Lee, Virginia with the 555th, known as  the ‘triple nickel.’ He earned the rank of sergeant with the Ft. Meyer MP Co and deployed to Heidelberg, Germany with the 529th.

It was in Heidelberg that James recalls a career highlight: meeting Louis Caldera, then U.S. Secretary of the Army.

Life in the military is life on the move. James was stationed next in Hanau, Germany, where he served with the 709th MP Battalion (BN) under two different companies.

“I came back to Ft. Drum as an S-1 assistant manager for the 91st MP BN and was medically discharged,” he recalls. “A sad day in my life.”

James transitioned from service with an honorable discharge after more than a decade of service to our nation.

Out of the Army, but still on the move

As an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver James spends a lot of time on the road. But when the self-professed Star Wars fan is home he loves nothing more than being with his wife and four children.

In time that family came to include a four-legged hurricane refugee named Lulu.

In the fall of 2017 James went to his local animal shelter to donate food and supplies from Speedy, the family’s recently departed dog. It was there that he met a pup who had survived an historic Category 5 hurricane and lost everything in the process. Disabled Army veteran overcomes grief with dog who lost everything in major hurricane

Lulu was a then three year-old Border Collie mix in the care of the Animal Welfare Association in New Jersey. Since 2012 the shelter has worked with us to adopt the more overlooked animals in their care to veterans in our program.

The staff told James about our partnership and all of the benefits available to him. The disabled Army veteran was touched by Lulu’s plight.

“She is a Hurricane Irma rescue from St. Martin,” he says.

Irma was a catastrophic Category 5 storm from which the island nation is still struggling to recover.

“I chose to adopt Sophie Rae because my family was devastated at the loss of a previous pet and I knew that adoption would save the life of not only an animal, but the lives of my family,” James explains. “Sophie Rae was a love at first sight.”

Speedy was just over five years old when he lost his life due to a serious illness. He was a Border Collie just like Lulu, who is since renamed Sophie Rae.

“She lost everything”

James is in awe of how well Sophie Rae has acclimated to her new life. And the disabled Army veteran appreciates how our nonprofit made it easier to welcome the displaced pup home.

“Pets for Patriots helped me with my adoption by helping me purchase the items I needed for our forever puppy,” he says. “I am so happy that Pets for Patriots has helped me with Sophie Rae. Thanks guys and gals!”

The petite hurricane refugee shows few signs of the life she left behind in shambles. She has embraced her new family with abandon and takes joy in the everyday activities that fill her days.

“Sophie loves to walk and just be with whoever walks her. She loves to just cuddle and she has grown to play with her toys and bark at noises,” James says. “Sophie absolutely loves car rides. She has come a long way.”

The disabled Army veteran is a big advocate for adopting companion pets. His experiences show how overlooked shelter animals deserve another chance and have so much to offer their new guardians. This includes animals who have experienced tragedies of their own.

Just ask Sophie Rae.

Another pup in the pack

James’ career as a long-haul trucker means a lot of time away from home. And his wife has many responsibilities with the children, the household, and of course Sophie Rae.

Naturally, the most logical course of action was to adopt a playmate for their little hurricane refugee.

Disabled Army veteran overcomes grief with dog who lost everything in major hurricane

“Sophie has adjusted well,” says James. “It took a year and a new little sister, Belle. But she loves to sleep, cuddle, and most of all – long walks, and rides in the car.”

To say Sophie has adapted to her new family is a bit of an understatement. The spirited pup even has her own Facebook page.

Even if James had not learned about Pets for Patriots, he likely would have adopted Sophie Rae. But he appreciates our mission to help veterans adopt – and keep – their four-legged friends.

“Other than the great people who run the organization I received a 150$ gift card and if I need any help they are there,” he says. “Pets for Patriots has helped me and my family learn to love again when it comes to having a fur baby in our lives. I cannot express enough of my gratitude for how you helped me with finding my forever friend. She is a breath of fresh air around here.”

As with most adoptions, healing takes place at both ends of the leash.

Through James’ act of kindness in donating Speedy’s belongings he met the antidote to his grief. And Sophie Rae had unspeakable loss and trauma of her own to overcome, which she has done with the love of James and his family.

“She was rescued and not only did she fill the gap in our hearts, but we have filled her heart with love for her loss as well,” he says. “She lost everything.”


  1. Alyson

    Thank you for your service. I’m so glad that your family has grown to include Sophie Rae and Belle. What a beautiful story.

  2. Mary Eaton

    What a sweet picture of Belle and Sophie Rae. Thank you for finding room in your home and lives for not one but two looking for the love that a family who cares can give. I am sure you appreciate the welcome you get when you come home, off the road, i.e. wagging tails and some doggy chatter at the door! Grateful for your years of service.

  3. Robin Matson

    Thank you for stepping up and caring for those that are searching for a new home, security and love. We only adopt foundling’s – they are so grateful to be part of something bigger and get to share their lives with someone who cares. We, of course, benefit immensely from their presence in our lives. Thank you and God Bless You and your loving family.

  4. John A. Smaldone

    Thank you for your service James. I know it was hard for you to depart from the Army on a medical disabled retirement basis, especially when you wanted to stay in!

    The story told is a very heart warming one, both about you and Sophie Rae. I wish you, your family and Sophie Rae only the best Bro.

    From one VET to another, God Bless and keep going forward,

    John Smaldone

  5. Louise

    Beautiful. Heartwarming. Thanks for sharing and for your service.

  6. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, James. Your story warmed my heart this morning, and the pictures of you and Sophie Rae together made me smile really big. I know the pain of losing a pet unexpectedly myself, and you are much braver than I am, because I’ve not yet been able to heal my heart enough to adopt another furbaby yet…but I know that I will as soon as my heart heals a little more. God Bless you and your family for finding a place in your hearts and home for Sophie Rae. I wish you all a long, happy life together.

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