A homeless dog tugs on the heartstrings of an elderly Coast Guard veteran with a heart for giving back to others.
Path to serve
Paul grew up as the youngest of five siblings in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was an avid baseball player and never missed a chance to watch the Red Soxs.
“I went to a lot of games and stuff like that,” he shares.
The teen’s tranquil life came to an abrupt end when he received a notice from the Army in 1966. The Vietnam War was rounding its eleventh year and Paul had just graduated from high school. He wanted more control over his fate and took a test to become a Marine instead, but did not pass.
Paul was disappointed, yet determined to fulfill his duty. He then took and passed the Coast Guard exam and is grateful that it worked out that way.
“I saw a lot of the world which I probably wouldn’t have been able to see growing up.”
To the poles and back
Paul had many unique experiences through his Coast Guard enlistment.
“I’ve been to the North Pole, South Pole, Australia, and New Zealand,” he says.
At each port Paul was struck by the hospitality of strangers.
“It was inviting. I enjoyed my time in different ports, knowing how people lived,” he recalls, “the environment, the personality around the people.”
Despite his wartime enlistment Paul still cherished the religious rituals of his upbringing. The young Coastie visited various synagogues, and was invited by locals to dinners and sightseeing trips.
Because Paul always had a heart for giving he gifted American cigarettes to strangers in gratitude for their generosity towards him.
However, even though Paul made friends easily he remained cautious. He recalls the time his friend and fellow veteran was stabbed at a bar in Panama.
“You had to watch your step.”
Still, the Coast Guard veteran found safety and comfort in nature.
“I loved New Zealand a lot – Australia too,” he says. “There were kangaroos, a lot of animals. I saw the mountains and everything like that. It was nice and pretty, it was a good time.”
Breaking the ice
The South Pole was especially interesting to Paul, who remembers the penguins with great affection.
“I called them tuxedos,” he says. “I was out on the ice with them and everything.”
The nature of Paul’s work put him in touch with a lot of different environments around the world. Not all were as idyllic as playing with pengiuns.
The young Coastie was stationed on the USCGC Eastwind, an ice breaking ship responsible for creating safe passage for other vessels.
Paul started as a seaman doing deck work. He was promoted to yeoman, which consisted of desk duties and writing correspondence. The tasks could be tedious and were not always comfortable aboard a ship that was zig-zagging as it cut through thick ice.
“It was kind of bumpy going back and forth,” Paul recalls. “Sometimes it would take a week to get a mile.”
The job was dangerous, to boot. On one occasion Paul nearly froze when he fell into the frigid waters.
“We were doing the anchor, and we were pulling it and I didn’t see the hole,” he recounts. “I fell through the ice and was lucky.”
Paul’s shipmates were able to pull him out of the water to safety.
“I was thankful that I had a lot of foul weather gear on,” he says. “That saved me from being really frostbitten.”
Back to New England
Paul was eventually stationed stateside where he was responsible for search and rescue operations out of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Search and rescue is one of the founding missions of the Coast Guard and remains an integral part of their duties to this day.
“Sometimes we would have to have a search party,” he says. “It all depends on the weather, too, and the conditions of the water.”
Unfortunately, illegal activity on the high seas sometimes put Paul and his fellow guardsman in unsafe situations.
“We had some dangerous times, we could get hurt,” he shares.
It was not long til Paul was on the move again, this time to the Rose Island lighthouse in Rhode Island. Along with a crew of two others, he tidied the grounds, painted, and made sure the lighthouse was functioning properly.
“G-d forbid you lose power,” he says, “you make sure the generators are working.”
In 1970 Paul completed his tour of duty and separated from the military.
The young veteran with a heart for giving worked in a few different professions before continuing a life of public service. Paul worked for the United States Post Office until retiring in 2013.
“So now I live a life of leisure,” he laughs, “I try.”
A heart for giving
Although Paul is retired he is hardly resting; much of his time is spent in service to others. He has various responsibilities as the caretaker of his synagogue, and dedicates time and money to support local charitable organizations.
“It doesn’t hurt to be giving,” he says. “I like to give. I’m a kind natured person.”
The Coast Guard veteran’s heart for giving inspired him to adopt a homeless pet. He was looking for months to no avail when he learned about Pets for Patriots.
With our help Paul met and adopted an adorable, yet undersocialized, pint-sized pup through his local animal shelter.
“This dog was abused,” Paul declares. “He was scared all of the time.”
Sadly, after just two weeks the dog dashed out of an open door and ran away. Paul enlisted the help of a friend and found the dog hiding in the brush alongside a nearby golf course. The dog was elusive and eventually died despite their best efforts to capture him safely.
Paul was devastated. Still, he was determined to give another dog a good home. Once again we helped him find a canine companion.
Soon after, the same shelter contacted Paul about Rambo, an adult Collie mix. The Coast Guard veteran wasted no time visiting the shelter to meet Rambo. He enlisted the same friend who helped him search for his previous dog to go to the shelter with him.
Paul was instantly smitten with Rambo.
“He was so cute, following me around,” Paul recalls. “I asked, ‘Can I get him today?’”
The shelter approved Paul’s application on the spot. Man and dog bonded on their way home in the car.
“He was so friendly, and sleeping in my lap and whatnot.”
In those moments the veteran with a heart for giving and the pup who needed a home became family.
Even the rabbi
Rambo settled into his new home very quickly, to Paul’s amazement.
“The second night – get this,” Paul says excitedly. “I was so surprised he snuggled under the blankets with me.”
And Rambo has been snuggling with Paul ever since. His affectionate personality has earned him many friends, especially in Paul’s local Jewish community.
“He is so great, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Paul says. “Even my rabbi, he loves the dog, too. A lot of times on the Sabbath I bring him out after service.”
Although Rambo is friendly with adults and children alike, he does not care for other animals. Paul respects Rambo’s boundaries, accepts him as he is, and is thrilled that his adopted pup is so kind to people.
Pandemic-driven isolated has been particularly difficult for Paul. He has spent more time at home because he is elderly and at greater risk of COVID-19 health impacts.
Thankfully, Rambo’s companionship has buoyed the Coast Guard veteran’s spirits.
“He’s just an angel to me.”
However, the summer of 2021 was uniquely challenging. Paul suffered a small stroke. He was hospitalized and ultimately transferred to a rehabilitation center to regain his strength.
During this time Paul’s friend and housemate looked after Rambo and, with permission, brought him to the rehabilitation facility to visit Paul. By the time Coast Guard veteran returned home it was as though he and his four-legged family were never apart.
“Even after I was out for six weeks, he didn’t lose time away from me,” he says. “He didn’t lose the friendship. He fell in love with me right away.”
Paul is still recovering from the stroke. Tasks that used to be easy – like opening jars – are more difficult.
“I have to sit back and I can’t do a lot of the things I used to do,” he admits.
But caring for Rambo forces him to take a few walks every day. This is not only good for his physical recovery, but his emotional well being, too.
The veteran with a heart for giving feels grateful to have Rambo giving back to him. His adopted pup seems to know when he is needed most.
Recovering with the community
The healing process is easier when you have an empathetic dog – and network of support. Paul is connected with a group of other disabled veterans through weekly video chats.
“We talk about different problems and we try to help each other out, each individual, and sometimes we bring up things, we try to solve it, we confide in each other,” he says. “We are like a family.”
We continue to check in with Paul to see how he is faring in recovery and if he needs any help. Our team organized a secret get-well card collection to lift his spirits upon his return home from the rehabilitation center.
“I got home after my time [in rehabilitation] and my mail was stacked up high for several weeks.
I had an envelope here, filled with a lot of letters from all over – precious words – when people heard about me being in the hospital, I must have had about 50 addressed to me – California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, people I didn’t even know, it’s incredible, Pets for Patriots really did me good,” Paul says. “It took my heart.”
The veteran with a heart for giving to others has was uplifted by our Pets for Patriots community caring for him. He is thrilled to be a part of the program.
“I’m glad to do this really, it gives me inspiration.”
Unsurprisingly, Paul encourages other veterans to consider visiting a shelter to adopt their new best friend. And he hopes that they do so through our nationwide companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
“I can see it with me, how much of a joy it is with me and Rambo,” he shares. “If it wasn’t for Pets for Patriots I don’t think I would’ve gotten a dog.”