Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

Summer Sunshine and Hippo are two dogs who were subject to unspeakable abuse. But their resilience offers valuable life lessons to the veteran and his wife who adopted them.

Like yesterday’s trash

Summer Sunshine had a rough start in life. In 2015 she was only three months old when a cowardly abuser threw her out of a moving car. The young dog’s injuries were so severe that her right hind leg required amputation.

The now five year-old tripawd dog does not let the loss of her leg slow her down or dim her spirit. And since 2017 Summer Sunshine has had another special dog with whom to share her joy: a Pit Bull mix who survived unimaginable cruelty as well.

Born to serve

In 1970, Jerry followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the United States Marines. He would ultimately train and serve as a CH-53 pilot. These helicopters are a staple of Marine aviation, used to transport Marines, supplies, and equipment for both combat and humanitarian missions.

After nine years of military life Jerry separated from service. He and his wife, Sue, now live in Norfolk, Virginia and lead very active lives.

The couple have always enjoyed bicycle riding, attending concerts together, and being outdoors. Their pursuits now include spending time with their two adopted dogs, both of whom are cruelty survivors and pictures of resilience.

The dark side of sunshine

Dogs have always been a part of Jerry’s world.

“If a dog does not like you, then I probably will not either. It has often been said that a dog is the only animal/spirit that loves you more than they do themselves,” Jerry says. “The greatest part of a dog is their totally unconditional love. I have had dogs my whole life, and always found comfort and solace in them.”

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

The Marine Corps veteran applied to our companion pet adoption program in the summer of 2015. Just one week after being approved, he and his wife visited one of our local adoption partners, Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center.

The shelter offers veterans in our program 50 percent off adoption fees when they adopt eligible dogs and cats. Since 2012, Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center has made possible more than 100 veteran-pet matches through our partnership.

Sprite was a stunning black-and-white Pit Bull-Great Dane-Pointer mix with a tragic start to life. When she was just three months old she was subject to unthinkable abuse and thrown out of a moving car.

The young dog suffered a displaced femoral fracture of her right hind leg that could not be surgically repaired. As a result, the leg was amputated.

By the time Jerry and Sue visited the shelter Sprite was already six months old. She qualified for our program because of her special needs.

Pets for Patriots is committed inspiring the adoption of dogs and cats who are least likely to find homes. These include animals who are adult, medically challenged, or chronically homeless, or dogs who are large breed.

Collectively these animals are most overlooked by adopters and most vulnerable to death or prolonged sheltering.

The love of a dog

Jerry adopted Sprite one week after he was approved into our program. Her cheerful disposition and resilience in the face of untold cruelty earned her a new name: Summer Sunshine.

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

The spirited pup is mostly unfazed by her injuries, but did have a setback a few years ago.

One morning she awoke and was unable to move. A follow up surgery removed her femoral head – the highest part of the thigh bone. Since then there have been only minor setbacks.

Although Summer Sunshine was young when she lost her leg, she never let it stop her from living a full life. Her grit and cheer have been an inspiration to both Jerry and his wife.

“We have learned through her that there are no obstacles in life that are too big to be conquered,” he says.  

“…you will never get a better mate or partner in life”

The former helo pilot describes Summer Sunshine as hard-headed, but loving. She fits in well with the couple’s active lifestyle and enjoys the quiet times as well.

“She is so very social and really cherishes her comfort,” Jerry says. “She is always happy to see us whether we have been gone a few days or a few minutes. I do not think she knows the difference.”

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

Helping Summer Sunshine overcome her obstacles is a testament to Jerry’s giving nature. He might not have considered the special needs pup were it not for Pets for Patriots, believing our program is a “great match” for his needs. And he encourages other veterans seeking pet companionship to apply.

“I would tell them that you will never get a better mate or partner in life,” Jerry says of shelter pets. “No judgement, always loving, and will lay down their life for you. Through Pets for Patriots you help yourself as well as other vets!”

Life is cruel

For nearly two years Summer Sunshine reveled in being the light of her humans’ lives. She accompanied them on many adventures and her infectious spirit brought untold joy to their household.

So it was not clear how two years after her adoption the tripawd pup would react to no longer being top dog – or at least not being the only one.

In 2017 a Norfolk, Virginia animal control officer found a Pit Bull mix wandering the streets. His injuries were horrific and consistent with being used as a bait dog.

Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 states and is one of the most despicable forms of animal cruelty.

“His face was horribly torn up. He had three broken teeth, the rest of his teeth had been filed down,” Sue recalls. “His ears looks liked they were cropped at home with scissors. He was covered with old scars and new wounds, and he had two torn paw pads and infected lesions between his toes.”

A special home for special dogs

Animal control brought the dog to the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center, where they named him Alfie.

As it happens, Jerry and Sue volunteer for a 501(c)(3) that raises funds for animals at the shelter who require extraordinary medical care. The fund paid for Summer Sunshine’s amputation prior to her adoption.

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

So through their volunteerism the couple learned about Alfie. In addition he was the subject of a social media campaign and featured on The Dodo, both of which brought attention to his plight.

Despite the couple’s interest, the shelter rightly decided to hold the dog for several weeks to evaluate his physical and emotional health. After everything he endured they needed to make sure that he was ready for adoption.

In time, Jerry, Sue, and Summer Sunshine were given an opportunity to meet Alfie. A home visit was arranged and that sealed the deal.

The dog once used as bait and left for dead was renamed Augustus Hippopotamus – or Hippo, for short. He went from being adored by the shelter staff to being a beloved member of Jerry’s family.

Yet Summer Sunshine was perhaps the happiest of them all.

“Summer decided he was her puppy and took it upon herself to teach him everything he needed to know about how to be a dog,” Sue shares. “I have no doubt that his transition would have been much more difficult without her help as it was pretty clear from the beginning that he was not used to living in a house.” 

Resilience runs in the family

It did not take long for Hippo to learn the ropes of home life, thanks to his three-legged mentor.

“With her help he became fully house trained within a couple of weeks, learned what toys are for, and that sofas and people beds are a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the floor,” Sue says. “She would kiss his face even when he was still in his cone after his facial surgery, and she still focuses on that spot when she licks him – that and his poor little ears.” 

Hippo is a work in progress, like most rescue animals and nearly all who are cruelty survivors. Still, some of the things he has learned to enjoy have come as a bit of a surprise to his guardians.

Dogs who survived horrific cruelty teach Marine Corps veteran the meaning of resilience

Apparently Summer taught Hippo to play a ‘bitey face’ game where each would nibble on the other’s snout. It is remarkable that Hippo plays this game in light of his past as a bait dog.

Yet in spite of all the love he receives Hippo remains haunted by his prior trauma. He becomes agitated when people raise their voices – a challenge since the family lives on the beach where there is a lot of activity.

“It was a bit hard to manage for the first few weeks,” Sue says, “but our little man has come a long way since then and is doing much, much better.”

Hippo continues to have bad dreams. He is hyper vigilant and finds it hard to manage different kinds of stimuli at one time. However, the couple no longer consider him a special needs pet, but rather “just a dog with a past that he’s worked very hard to overcome.”

The resilience of these two previously abused dogs fills their family home with joy. It is nothing short of miraculous how these creatures – treated so ruthlessly by soulless cowards – are able to accept the loving embrace of humans at all.

And yet, they do, and give back so much love in return.


  1. Tracy Mills

    Thank you so much for rescuing these wonderful pups. I admit I am scared of Pit Bull mix dogs but I have many friends who have them. It breaks my heart to see how cruel some people can be. God Bless you for opening your home and heart to the set beautiful dogs.

  2. Regina Roza

    Thank you for giving those 2 pips a wonderful forever home. I’m sure they show their gratitude everyday with their unconditional love!


  3. Shannon

    I agree wholeheartedly! A special place in heaven for this couple. And a special place in hell for whoever did that to the dogs before they found their loving homes.

  4. Diane C Chalberg

    Thank you all! Thank you for your service, thank you for your support, thank you for bringing such a good life to these two beautiful pups! The pictures of them are priceless!

  5. Rosie

    I’d like to type “God bless you all for loving these two sweet dogs.” but the tears are making it hard to type as I watch my adopted former bait dog sleeping peacefully nearby. Why are people so cruel? Thank you for rescuing Hippo and Summer.

  6. Carolyn Miller

    There is a special place in heaven for this couple! Thank you, Jerry for your military service and to both of you for these two wounded and wonderful dogs your love!!

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