A German Shepherd rescue dog who has been a lifeline to her Navy veteran has the favor returned when she develops a life-threatening illness.
Sailor, civilian, and animal advocate
Melina no longer needs Remi in the same way she did years ago. At that time, in 2012, the Navy veteran struggled with depression when she first made the transition from sailor to civilian.
Separating from service meant “going from 100 percent structure to negative 90,” she says.
The changes in lifestyle veterans experience when they separate from service can last for years after the ends of their military careers. It was no different for Melina.
“You still have some difficult times,” she explains, “even though it’s been that long.”
Melina credits much of her personal growth to companion pet adoption, which in turn motivated her to begin volunteering for a German Shepherd rescue in East Tennessee.
Remi to the rescue
It was 2012 and Remi – short for Remington – was a one year-old, large dog in the care of our partners Monroe County Friends of Animals. At the time, she was named Mizah and had been surrendered by her previous guardian.
Monroe County Friends of Animals had joined our national partner network just a few months prior to Remi’s arrival. They offer veterans in our program fee-waived adoptions and a starter bag of pet food.
The German Shepherd rescue dog seemed destined to meet Melina. And volunteering in animal welfare was a life-changing activity for Melina.
“It got me involved with rescue, education, and advocacy, and doing stuff my dog would enjoy,” she says.
Not long after she started volunteer work, the Navy veteran visited Monroe County Friends of Animals and learned about our partnership. Melina adopted Remi within days of being approved into our program.
From day one, the two did nearly everything together.
Remi even became an unofficial volunteer, attending nearly every adoption event where Melina was volunteering. The big, sweet-natured pup became an unofficial ‘spokes dog’ and helped Melina educate people about the breed.
“Every dog has their own temperament, but I wanted to nix any bad feelings anyone had about her,” she says. “She’s ready to do whatever, she’s very easygoing.”
Remi’s calm temperament brings a welcome balance to Melina’s busy life.
The veteran worked throughout college, graduating with degrees in sociology and geography. She currently is enrolled in a master’s program in criminal justice.
“Going to school, working three jobs, and having an animal helps you prioritize a little bit,” she laughs.
So Melina makes a point to take Remi wherever she can.
“I wanted to be able to bring her anywhere, [and] make sure she’s comfortable going anywhere.”
The veteran confides that it took a lot of work. While Remi can be quiet and “very stealthy,” she is very protective of Melina as well. Still, the Navy veteran’s time, training, and patience has paid off.
The big German Shepherd rescue dog is a constant companion to Melina. Remi joined her on-campus at the veteran’s affairs office, during volunteer engagements with the shelter, at Melina’s job at a publishing firm, and everywhere in between.
Even though Melina now works from a home office, things have not changed. Remi is a constant – and welcome – presence.
“She hangs out in the office all day while I’m working. If I have a bad day at work, she’s here.”
But the big dog’s calm demeanor has helped Melina through some challenging moments in the Navy veteran’s life.
“This dog was with me through shoulder surgery, divorce, my time transitioning after the military,” Melina says.
When they were first adopted, Remi helped Melina heal by lessening her depression. Now, years later, the pair have a more balanced relationship.
“For a while she was a crutch,” Melina says, “and now it’s more of a symbiotic relationship.”
No place like home
In 2016, Melina was torn when her family pleaded with her to move back to her home state of Colorado. She would be able to stay at her grandparents’ rental property, but there was a problem.
Pets were not allowed.
The veteran told her loved ones that leaving Remi behind was not an option.
“That’s not happening,” she recalls telling her family. “I’m not going to move without my dog.”
Melina’s family found a way to make it possible for her to move to Colorado with Remi at her side. And by this time Melina acquired another dog and three cats from a friend who had passed away. They all moved together.
In March of 2018, the veteran returned to her home state. She bought a house with a yard to benefit her growing family of four dogs and two cats.
Remi has assumed the position of hall monitor in the house. And when Melina and her boyfriend have time, they take the dogs for road trips. They live at the base of the Rocky Mountains – an ideal spot for hiking.
Despite now being a senior citizen, Remi is always up for adventure.
“She is ready to do whatever,” Melina says.
To the rescue of the German Shepherd rescue dog
But in 2017 everything changed for Melina when Remi suddenly became ill.
“For about two days, she wasn’t herself,” the Navy veteran explains. “She was just lethargic.”
The veterinarians did not know what was wrong with Remi. They wanted to do more diagnostic tests, but during that time Melina could not afford the fees.
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to watch my dog die before I can get her help,’” she recalls.
One night Remi experienced a terrible episode of vomiting and began bleeding from her rectum. Melina felt overwhelmed and hopeless. After a sleepless night of searching for affordable facilities that might treat her beloved dog, she made a desperate call to Pets for Patriots – at four o’clock in the morning.
“I called to ask, ‘Do you know of anyone that can help me?’” she remembers.
Melina says she will be eternally grateful for the response to that call.
“They not only helped me provide for her, they called me at five o’ clock in the morning and said, ‘Bring her to the vet right now.’”
Melina immediately brought Remi to an emergency veterinarian, where she stayed for two days due to dehydration. After months of tests and trial treatments, Remi was finally diagnosed with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.
The disease more commonly afflicts small- and toy-breed dogs, and can be fatal if left untreated. Thankfully Remi received timely care and Melina has long remembered our support.
“I could have never asked for anything better than that,” she says.
Two years after the health scare Melina manages Remi’s condition with prescription dog food and treats. At first it was a struggle to stop Remi from picking up fallen table scraps.
Even eating a small amount of the cat’s food would send her body into shock. But the big dog now seems to understand her limits.
“She doesn’t touch food she’s not supposed to have,” Melina says.
Adopting Remi eased Melina’s depression and gives her something positive to think about. As a veteran, she often reflects on the importance of having a companion pet in her life.
“It gives you something to look forward to and something to be responsible for,” she says.
Because depression can be very isolating it often deepens one’s sense of despair. But the Navy veteran’s world has expanded with Remi at her side. Melina now has more casual opportunities to engage with other people and feels more confident doing new things.
“It’s like anywhere I go you can talk about your dog or talk about your cat,” she says.
Melina thinks about all that she has accomplished since adopting Remi. She credits the big dog with inspiring her to get involved in animal advocacy – a vital step in her personal growth.
“[Without Remi] I probably would have never done that, and probably not been successful,” she says. “She matches my personality to a ‘t.'”