Skip was adrift after his family dog was laid to rest. But fate and faith put a rescue dog in his path who needed saving as much as he did.
In March 1976 Skip enlisted in the Navy and spent the majority of his service in duty stations along the Eastern seaboard. He served at NAVSATCOMFAC (Naval Satellite Communications Facility) in Chesapeake, Virginia, as well as aboard the USS Nashville, USS Radford, and USS Edenton – all stationed out of Norfolk, Virginia.
Yet like all who serve, Skip went where the military needed him. This would include assignments to far flung places like Keflavik, Iceland and Brawdy, Wales.
Just one year into his enlistment the young sailor received his most memorable assignment: to serve as a technician aboard the presidential yacht. To do so required top secret clearance. Skip recalls investigators having to interview his friends, family, and neighbors.
“I was one week from reporting for duty and President Jimmy Carter decided to sell the yacht,” he says. “I ended up going to Iceland instead.”
A sudden and tragic end
Even during his naval career Skip has rarely been with out a dog in his life. He brought back Rocky from his deployment to Wales in 1980. In time, Rocky would be followed by Katie, Della, Molly, and Dusty. And it was this last dog – Dusty – whose parting still pains the now retired sailor.
“Dusty was the last one, and one Saturday night he went into the bedroom and we heard strange noises. We went in and found him in a severe seizure,” he says. “Molly had had them before and I felt confident we could get him through it.”
A trip to the emergency veterinarian assured Skip and his wife, Wendy, that their beloved Dusty would be fine.
But the very next morning Dusty could barely walk the three stairs into the house, and collapsed. A second trip to the emergency room confirmed that thte dog’s spine had ruptured, leaving him with no control over his hind quarters.
“Knowing him like I did and as close as we were I knew that this was not the life for such a loving, vivacious dog,” Skip shares. “We had to make the horrible decision to ease his suffering and put him down. We came home to a horribly empty home.”
Skipper – the family cat – did his best to fill the void, and followed Skip and Wendy everywhere. Still, it was not enough.
Dusty’s death cast a long shadow; the silence of his absence was deafening. After several weeks Skip knew that the only way for him and his wife to heal was to adopt another companion dog.
The couple visited a shelter in their local Chesapeake area. All of the dogs were in foster homes and not available to meet on the spot.
But soon afterwards Skip and Wendy drove to North Carolina to attend an auction. While there, they visited with friends who told them about SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina in Elizabeth City.
Fate and faith would conspire to change Skip’s world.
“We went over,” he says of the shelter, “and found it to be a great place with loving, caring people in a great, clean atmosphere.”
What the retired sailor did not know at the time is that SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina has partnered with Pets for Patriots since 2017. The shelter offers veterans in our program 50 percent off adoption fees. Together we have dozens of adoptions through this partnership.
But the Navy veteran’s hopes would soon be dashed. After hours at the shelter he still had not met the one dog who would steal his heart.
Where there are dogs there is hope
The Navy veteran was looking for that feeling that has no words, that would tell him that he found “the one.”
“We took several dogs from their kennels to the introduction room looking for the spark to reignite the flame that had gone out. After two hours of trying we could not find one that fit the bill,” Skip says. “We gave up.”
However, fate and faith would give Skip renewed hope. He and Wendy went back inside the shelter, where they caught a glance of a large white dog getting “whisked” to the back. The retired veteran was intrigued. From a distance the dog looked like one of his previous pups, Molly.
“Molly was a yellow Lab that I got certified as a therapy dog,” he explains, “and together we had 180 visits to the hospital to bring smiles into people’s hurting times.”
Therapy dogs are a type of assistance animal. A therapy animal benefits people other than her handler, such as those who visit hospitals and nursing homes to comfort the sick.
Skip asked to see mystery dog. The shelter staff told him that she had just been surrendered, and had not yet been given her shots or medical exam.
But the veteran persevered, explaining that he and Wendy lived an hour away. And so the couple was led into the back area where Skip finally met his match.
“…she would fill the void in my heart”
Doris was a severely underweight, eight month old Great Pyrenees. Even in her diminished physical state she was an impressive, beautiful creature.
“I knew that this was the dog,” Skip recalls. “We wanted her, and put in our request to adopt and got the right of first refusal to get her. We had to wait to see if someone claimed her and [if] she passed the physical.”
The couple left the shelter, but the Navy veteran could not get the big rescue dog out of his mind.
“We came home that night and went out to dinner,” he says, “and I asked my wife if we could name the dog Faith if we got her, as I felt faith that she would fill the void in my heart that made it seem so empty.”
Skip called and emailed the shelter daily to ask about Doris’ status. While browsing their website he saw a link to Pets for Patriots. After learning how our program works and determining that he was eligible, he applied and was promptly approved.
Now the retired sailor just needed Doris.
Within a few days the big dog’s stray hold was over. No one claimed her, and she would be made available for adoption.
Skip and Wendy went to the shelter so that Doris could be cat tested to see how she might fare with their resident cat, Skipper. She passed the test, but the adoption could not be finalized until she was spayed.
However, Skip was permitted to take Doris home as a foster until the procedure could be scheduled.
Three weeks later the couple went to a PETA mobile clinic at the border of North Carolina and Virginia to have Doris spayed. She had already been microchipped and vaccinated at the shelter.
Skip learned that his local veterinarian, Mt. Pleasant Veterinary Clinic in Chesapeake, offers veterans who adopt through our program 10 percent off of veterinary fees.
All of the stars were starting to align.
Finally, after what felt like an interminable wait, Skip made the adoption official and brought Doris home for good. Fate and faith brought man and dog together, and the Navy veteran was overcome with emotion.
“Only someone that has close ties to an animal can understand the loss of losing my best bud, and now know the joy of having our hearts open and filled again.”
Fate and faith
Skip followed through on his wishes and renamed the big dog Faith. As he learned more about his newest charge he realized that this new moniker was particularly fitting. For starters, Skip saw signs that she had a rough start to life.
“She was abused before we got her, and it took some time and love before she [would] walk through the living room without her head hanging and tail down. Now she has a basket of her own toys, bounds through the house, and stays with us each and every minute,” he says.
It is always inconceivable that people would do harm to an innocent such as a dog. Yet countless animals enter shelters each year as victims of neglect, mistreatment, and abuse.
Faith is one of the lucky ones. She was rescued and adopted into a home that gives her the love, patience, and time she needs to heal.
“She is getting better every day with each dose of the love we share,” Skip shares. “I find it very hard to believe that anyone could just turn her into a stray and let her go.”
With each passing day it is clear to Skip that fate and faith played a hand in bringing this particular dog into his life. While Faith is more reserved than the couple’s previous dogs, she finds ways to return the abundant love they shower upon her.
“Faith is not a vivacious dog that meets us when we come in and sometimes we have to go find her, but the love she shares is immense,” Skip says. “Giving her a hug is the closest thing to being able to hug a polar bear as I want to come.”
“…we knew we were on the path to healing”
Skip loved taking his beloved dog Molly to uplift people who were sick and hurting. And while he hoped that Faith might be trained as a therapy animal, too, he came to realize that she would not be following Molly’s lead.
“She does not have the discipline to be a therapy dog,” he observes, “but she sure shares a lot of love, and fur, every day.”
Still, Faith has her healing ways. She and Skip have a nightly routine that is therapeutic for both person and pet. And true to her breed, Faith is very protective of her human family.
“In the evenings I will lie on the floor and Faith will come over and stretch out on her back for her evening belly rub,” he says. “At 80-plus pounds she has a very deep bark and that helps us feel secure, even the occasional two a.m. barking. She is protecting her herd.”
With every passing day since their adoption it is clear that larger forces were at play in making this match of person and pet. Following Dusty’s passing, Skip knew with unshakable certainty that another special dog was waiting for him.
“We had faith that the hole in our hearts would be filled somehow and when we saw this beautiful girl we knew we were on the path to healing,” he explains. “She makes us smile and laugh each and every day. She is real close to the sweetest dog I have ever had. I would also like to thank you for this great program. The amount of love that one of these dogs can give is amazing.”
Healing at both ends of the leash
Skip is still amazed at the series of events that conspired to bring Faith into his life. Both fate and faith played their hands.
“When I think of all of the things that had to come together in such a perfect way to allow us to have her,” he ponders.
The retired Navy veteran is a strong advocate for companion pet adoption. He knows firsthand how both people and pets benefit from rescue.
“There is no reason to be alone when a pet can provide so very much,” Skip says. “They always look to you, want you, and have so much love to give. They listen for hours, absorb tears, and are always looking for more to share.”
Adopting for life
Because Skip had pets his entire adult life, he understands that caring for them can be costly. The benefits of our program helped him welcome Faith into his home without taking a bite out of his budget.
Financial support is just one part of our overall mission to help veterans adopt pets – for life. We follow up with each adopter for at least one year; many choose to stay in touch over the lives of their pets.
“Pets for Patriots is wonderful and being on a very fixed income helps bring the costs down,” he says. “The SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina spayed and chipped Faith before they would adopt her out, and gave us her complete shot history. They, too, are wonderful people.”
However, the greatest benefit we provide is impossible to quantify. There is no price tag on unconditional love.
“She has relit the flame I thought was out and brings joy to our lives,” Skip says.
But it is that rare combination of fate and faith that the retired Navy veteran reflects upon most of all. The way a series of seemingly unrelated events led him to a dog who needed healing as much as he did. How in his moment of personal pain he connected to a dog who was hurting, too.
“One of the best and most fateful decisions of my life. We were put in that place at that time to see this beautiful animal that now shares our home, and our hearts,” he says. “Thanks again for what you do and for helping us heal.”