Hero Fund throws lifeline to Naval officer’s adopted dog

Hero Fund throws lifeline to Naval officer's adopted dog

A young Naval officer never expected to need our Hero Fund for Veterinary Care when he rescued a shelter dog. But after a trip to the emergency veterinarian he was grateful for support that saved his dog’s life.

The submarine hunter

Cory grew up in Texarkana, Texas and enlisted in the Navy after high school. He saw it as an opportunity for growth and to secure a better future.

“I wanted to go to college and I didn’t have the money for it. I was stuck in a small town,” Cory explains. “I wanted to see the world and be able to go to the college I was interested in, not community college.”

Cory originally intended to serve one tour of duty. But in 2004 he was commissioned as an officer and now 20 years after his enlistment he is still proud to don the uniform.

Although he joined the Navy, Cory learned that he did not want to spend his military career aboard a ship.

“Turned out I really wanted to fly airplanes.”

During his senior year of college Cory was given the opportunity to go to flight school; he took it.

Cory’s long military career has taken him all over the world. Between 2014-2015 he deployed to more than a dozen countries, including Russia, the Ukraine, Norway, Romania, and Germany. This was in addition to serving at various duty stations across the United States.

Hero Fund throws lifeline to Naval officer's adopted dog

The young Naval officer hunted submarines aboard the storied P3-C, mostly in the Middle East and Far East. The P-3Cs are land-based naval surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

Cory’s roles, responsibilities, and perspective changed throughout his tenure in service.

“The longer I stayed the more higher ranking, the more strategic the jobs become,” he says. “You start to see [that] this is not that just tactical level, I’m not just fighting some guy in Iraq because somebody told me, I’m actually doing it because there are larger national security implications, larger global implications.”

Mission accomplished

In 2016, Cory achieved one of his goals: a world-class college education. He enrolled in the Naval War College, earning a Masters degree while working simultaneously towards a civilian Masters at Northeastern University in Boston.

The Naval officer is grateful for the many opportunities that military life has afforded him.

“I’ve gotten much more out of the military than I ever expected to get, from education to friendships that have lasted. I’ve now been in the military longer than I haven’t, so most of my friends are military,” Cory says. “I can pretty much go anywhere in the United States and a lot of places throughout the world, and make a phone call, and probably have a friend that’s close by.”

An unexpected sense of patriotism

Although Cory has always loved his country, he has not always described himself as a patriotic person. The shift began when he watched the attacks of September 11, 2001 unfold on the news. He considered deferring college in order to serve.

But it is not only what happened on the homeland that informed Cory’s growing sense of patriotism. Various experiences throughout his military career shaped his world view, including many that took place on foreign soil.

“Standing in the middle of the Red Square with the Russian military, shaking their hands and working fully operatively with their military, is one of the things I’ll never forget doing,” he says. “Meeting those people, service members from other countries that work alongside us, has really helped me define my sense of patriotism. It’s not just patriotism to the United States, it’s to humanity – it’s to the global.”

A dog named Hunter

Cory lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and son. Until recently they shared their home with two rescue dogs: Bruno, 16, and Frankie, a Hurricane Katrina survivor.

When Frankie died the couple was not sure they would adopt another dog for a while. But they always knew that their next dog would be another rescue.

“They are super sweet dogs, incredibly loyal to us, so we decided we would always get rescues. There’s just too many of them out there who need good homes, and too many of them are great dogs,” Cory says. “So, if we could save a life and have an excellent new family member, we would do that.”

That day came sooner than expected.

Hero Fund throws lifeline to Naval officer's adopted dog

A few months after Frankie’s death, their son’s grandfather called to ask if he could get the young boy a dog for Christmas. Cory and his wife agreed.

This is how the family crossed paths with Hunter – although they almost missed him.

“Hunter had just been released for adoption, literally fifteen minutes prior,” Cory explains. “So we did the meet and greet with our dog and they paid no attention to each other, which was great. He bonded immediately with me and my son.”

Hunter – named Cooper at the time – was a then three year-old Labrador Retriever mix in the care of our partners at Virginia Beach SPCA.

Since 2012, the organization has worked with us to help the most overlooked dogs and cats find loving military homes. They offer veterans in our program a reduced adoption fee and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic without demonstrating proof of income.

Hunter went home with Cory and his family that same early December day. Life for the young Navy family was good until one day when it suddenly was not.

Hero fund to the rescue

Two months later the family realized that Hunter was extremely ill. The initial diagnosis at a local emergency veterinary hospital was obstructed bowel. It would require immediate and very expensive surgery.

Cory reached out to us upon learning the initial diagnosis, which came with an estimated $1,500 cost for the surgery alone. But as final, pre-surgical tests were being done it was discovered that Hunter had a severe case of heartworm disease. It is fatal if untreated.

We encouraged Cory to take Hunter to one of our trusted veterinary partners, Owl Creek Veterinary Hospital. He agreed, and we worked closely with the veterinarians at the hospital to expedite Hunter’s care.

Pets for Patriots maintains a Hero Fund for Veterinary Care to assist our veterans’ pets with extraordinary, emergency, or palliative care. Its goals are to give these animals essential medical treatment, avoid their surrender to a shelter, and prevent undue financial hardship to their guardians.

The program is supported entirely by the generosity of donors who direct their gifts to the Hero Fund.

A life – and a family – saved

The team at Owl Creek worked quickly to refine Hunter’s diagnosis, disease staging, and treatment plan. His case was unique because he had been treated at the shelter with a long-acting heartworm medication that complicated immediate intervention.

Owl Creek reached out to the American Heartworm Society, as well as the manufacturer of the medication Hunter had been given previously.

Hero Fund throws lifeline to Naval officer's adopted dog

“He was a healthy dog when we adopted him, and we weren’t budgeted for that at all,” Cory says. “Pets for Patriots covered all of Hunter’s emergency visits and covered the full cost of his heartworm treatments.”

In order to use our donors’ dollars most effectively we negotiated a nonprofit discount so that Hunter’s medical treatment could be provided through our Hero Fund.

“I couldn’t thank them enough. I don’t really know how my son would have taken it,” he says. “He had just lost a dog two to four months prior to that, and if we were going to turn around and lose another one within four months, that would have been incredibly difficult.”

Hunter was able to receive immediate, life-saving treatment at no cost to Cory and his family. They now visit Owl Creek regularly and entrust the practice with the care of both of their beloved dogs.

Healthy and happy at last

Hunter’s heartworm treatment was long and difficult. It involved painful shots, restricted exercise, and very strong antibiotics. He had a few setbacks along the way, but is now almost fully recovered.

“He is just killing it right now,” Cory says. “He’s really my son’s dog technically, but when I’m home he follows me around. When I’m not home, he’s the man of the house. He is the sweetest dog.”

With the ordeal now safely behind them, Cory and his family remain grateful to Pets for Patriots and our Hero Fund. He and his wife are so appreciative of our support that they have since made donations to us as an expression of their thanks.

“It’s a little bit serendipitous, because had we known that he had heartworm, we probably wouldn’t have adopted him,” Cory shares. “But he’s been fantastic. He’s been a member of our family since day one.”

The Naval officer had always wanted a larger dog, though he did not plan on having one that came so close to losing his life. These days, Hunter goes nearly everywhere with the family where dogs are allowed. And he loves riding in the car with Cory.

“I can’t thank Pets for Patriots enough for giving us the opportunity to take a chance on a dog that maybe we wouldn’t have otherwise,” Cory says. “It saved our family. In reality, it allowed us to help us get over our other dog. Our current dog has a new lease on life, and gave us some happiness along the way, too.”


  1. Alyson A.

    Thank you for your service – Hunter is very lucky to have such a wonderful family.

  2. Cory (Hunter’s Dad)

    Beth, and the whole Pets for Patriots family, thank you all for your program. You help to place “difficult to adopt” animals with people who understand what they’re going through. I thought you were amazing for that. When Hunter became ill, I had no idea that you could and would be so supportive of my situation, as well as so many others! I will continue to support Pets so that other pets and owners can have the same opportunity you’ve given my family. Thank you, again!


    • bethz

      Cory, it’s our privilege to be able to do something for you and your family after all you have done – and continue to do – for our great nation. Thank you! We are thrilled to share your inspiring tale.

  3. Christine E

    Way to go Pets for Patriots! Thanks for helping Cory and Hunter.

    • bethz

      Thank you, Christine; it’s our honor!

  4. John A. Smaldone

    What a great story about two hero’s, Cory and Hunter! What a career Cory had and has, I thank Cory for his service, he is a patriot all the way!

    As far as Hunter is concerned, he is one lucky buddy, his life saved, a family for life but a loyal member of Cory’s family for life. Sure can’t beat that!

    Good reporting, great story, sure made my Tuesday!

    Thanks for the publication Beth,

    John A. Smaldone

    • bethz

      Glad you enjoyed this story, John; we have a whole team behind it making it possible!

  5. Rod McElveen


    • bethz

      Glad you enjoyed the story, Rod!

  6. Mary Armbrust

    So awesome that Hunter gets a chance to live out his life with a wonderful family and every dog’s dream – a child to love! The Hero Fund is amazing – Pets for Patriots gave me extra time with Rocky the Magnificent, and time where I didn’t have to subsist on ramen noodles to pay his ginormous vet bills. I an forever grateful to this wonderful organization and its founder, Beth Zimmerman!

    • bethz

      Thank you for the kind words, Mary! It was an honor to help Rocky the Magnificent and to give the two of you more time together. We appreciate your service and your willingness to adopt those hard to place pets, like Pedro/Gumby, too!

  7. Paula

    Cory, thank you for serving our country. Pets for Patriots thank you for all you do for our friends (pets).
    What a great story.

    • bethz

      Thank you, Paula; our work is a true privilege.

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