Goofy Pit Bull named after football legend is Navy veteran’s new first mate

Goofy Pit Bull named after football legend is Navy veteran's new first mate

Jason hails from New England and has always loved sports. So it was no surprise that a hometown football legend would inspire the name of his new best friend.

Persian Gulf War

In 1989 Jason enlisted in the United States Navy. He served aboard the USS John F. Kennedy CV-67, the Navy’s last conventionally powered aircraft carrier.

“I am a veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm,” he says.

The conflict was otherwise known as the Persian Gulf War and was in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Jason has a searing memory of a particularly tense situation when his ship was moving through the Suez Canal.

“On the way over to my deployment for Operation Desert Shield, Saddam Hussein made a statement that the next ship to pass the Suez Canal he would bomb! Well, that was the JFK,” Jason says, in reference to his ship. “Had a bunch of us pretty worried, but luckily a deranged dictator is rarely good to his word.”

In 1993 Jason’s naval career was cut short. He was medically discharged due to knee problems, but remains rightly proud of his service to our nation.

The wartime veteran is proof that you can take the Navy out of the man you cannot take the man out of the Navy. For 27 years following his military separation Jason worked as a Navy contractor. Now he works directly for the Navy as a civilian employee.

“Same building, different side of the contract,” he says.

Feeling adrift

Jason and his wife have long called North Carolina home. Until a few years ago they shared it with two dogs until one of them passed away.

“The passing of our sweet Pit Bull, Mani, had a huge impact on us and our Lab,” he shares. “She needed a companion, and we wanted another pup for our family.”

Jason is a longtime sports fan with a special affection for New England players. His Lab, Brady, was named after the onetime football legend who played with the Patriots.

It was late October 2019 when Toby entered the Virginia Beach SPCA as an admittedly hard-to-place pet. He is a large, Pit Bull-breed dog and already a young adult. Many adopters shy away from bully breeds, and are drawn to younger, smaller dogs.

Upon medical examination Toby was found to be heartworm positive. While the condition is survivable if treated promptly, treatment takes months, during which time the dog is severely limited in his activities. It would be yet another strike against the big dog’s adoption potential.

However, Toby was about to score a major touchdown. And with his adoption victory would come a new name befitting yet another famous New England athlete.

Another football legend joins the pack

Jason does not recall if he learned about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans online or through the Veterans Administration.

“I try to support vets as often as I can and you seemed like the obvious choice to aid in our adoption,” he explains. 

Regardless, the Navy veteran applied and was approved in November 2019. He and his wife, Kelly, wasted no time visiting one of our longest serving adoption and veterinarian partners, Virginia Beach SPCA.

The organization extends a 25 percent adoption fee discount to veterans in our program and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic without proof of income qualification.

Kelly did some of the initial scouting for the couple’s next dog and visited the shelter. It was there that she met Toby, whom the couple subsequently renamed upon adoption.

“So my wife went searching for us and found Gronk at the Virginia Beach SPCA. She had taken our Lab, Brady, with her and Brady actually picked out Gronk!” Jason recalls. “I grew up in New England and you can guess where their names came from.”

Rob Gronkowski – affectionally known as Gronk – is a football legend who played with the New England Patriots. He would follow his friend and teammate Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before retiring from football altogether.

In early December Jason made the adoption official and welcomed Gronk to his family’s hall of fame.

“…a wonderful stress reliever”

It did not take long for Gronk to embrace his new home. Jason and Kelly were wise to seek out training lessons early on so that they could more easily manage a dog of his size, strength, and energy.

Everyone in the household is smitten with Gronk – including his canine sister.

“We instantly fell in love with Gronk. He is such a loving Pittie!” Jason exclaims. “He keeps Brady on her toes and she certainly taught him how things worked in our house.”

However, it is not unusual for a pet to favor one member of the family. Gronk loves both of the humans in his life and takes turns snuggling with each of them, but he makes it known that Jason is his special person.

“Gronk has really become a Daddy’s boy,” Jason says. “Whenever I am home he’s not far away and loves to spend time relaxing on the oversized chair with me. He has been a wonderful stress reliever!”

As wonderful as Gronk has been and remains, Jason reflects how his heartworm diagnosis kept would-be adopters at bay. That was the Navy veteran’s good fortune, since neither he nor Kelly were daunted by navigating Gronk through his treatment.

“He’s such a good boy,” Jason says, “had he not been heartworm positive he would have been adopted long before we got him.”

What’s in a name

As wonderful as Gronk has been, his adoption has not been without challenge. It took him a while to be comfortable going up and down stairs in the house. And he has yet to learn that fetch requires not just catching a ball, but returning it as well.

Still, these are mostly minor quirks that only add to Gronk’s charm and appeal.

While the big dog may never be a football legend, he has proven worthy of his name.

“Gronk is very true to his namesake – quite the ball hog! He almost always has one in his mouth,” Jason shares.

However, Gronk has not figured out that he and his canine sister play for the same team. He enjoys chasing her in the yard, and will keep the ball to himself. Jason simply tosses a replacement ball to get Gronk to drop the first one.

And Gronk is not partial to footballs; almost any ball will do.

“One of his favorites is an old soccer ball that he popped so it will fit in his mouth.”

There is never a replacement for a pet who has passed away. Each one takes a little piece of our hearts with them. Jason and Kelly – and Brady, too – felt the void of Mani’s loss.

Gronk was waiting on the bench – sidelined, but still in play.

“We are so happy to have him in our family,” Jason says. “Thanks for all your help.”


  1. Christine C

    Gronk is such a handsome boy! I’m so happy you took a chance on him and helped him through his treatments. Glad Brady likes her new brother too. Thank you for your Service, and wishing you many happy years together with Brady and Gronk.

  2. Carolyn J Miller

    Thank you for your service in the Navy! You and your wife are stars, willing to adopt an older, heart worm positive, bully breed boy boy. You’re all professional sports players!!

Give with Confidence

candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
candid platinum transparency 2023
Petco Foundation
donate your car

Shop 1800PetMeds for all of your pet’s health needs and we’ll get 10% of your purchase!

Shop BISSELL for your home cleaning needs and they will donate 10% of your purchase to us!

Because a shelter is not a home

Long-term shelter pets available for adoption