Loving shelter dog is “best therapy in the world” for retired airman

Loving shelter dog is "best therapy in the world" for retired airman

Last summer Bill lost two beloved pets within two months of each other. Overcome with grief, the retired airman swore that he would never bring another dog into his life because the goodbyes are too painful to bear.

And then he met Arthur.

A true believer  

In an effort to take some control of his fate during the Vietnam War era, Bill enlisted in the United States Air Force in September of 1971.

“I had a low draft number,” he explains. “I decided that the Air Force would be a better way to go.”

Bill chose a law enforcement career within the Air Force, expecting to maintain law and order on base. Instead, he found himself in a slightly different position.

“Just as I was in basic training, the law enforcement field was divided into two subgroups: law enforcement and security forces. I had just joined up for four years of guard duty!”

After making rank, Bill began to truly understand the importance of his role as a security forces officer, ensuring the integrity of all terrain both within an adjacent to military installations. He chose to re-enlist with the knowledge that even better training and better equipment were being developed. 

“I truly believed I could make a difference,” he says. “Slowly, over the years, I began to realize that I had become a true believer. A patriot. If not me, then who?”

Bill went on to spend the next two decades serving his country, eventually retiring as a master sergeant after Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Sweating in peace

The bulk of Bill’s time in the Air Force – 18 years, to be exact – was spent in the United Kingdom (UK). In addition he served year-long stints in places as diverse as northern Michigan and Korea.

“I arranged informal training with the Royal Marine Commandos, informal training with the British Special Air Service, and six weeks of formal training with U.S. Army Special Forces,” he says of his work in the UK.

Bill’s responsibilities increased as his military career advanced. Loving shelter dog is “best therapy in the world” for retired airman

“Once I hit the senior NCO [non-commissioned officer] level, I found myself supervising a flight of people anywhere from 45 to 120,” he recalls. “I pushed hard with extra training. Because of my attitude towards the job, I was not liked. But as Sun Tzu said, ‘The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in war.’”

Bill worked his way through various support positions and ended his career as an operations superintendent for a 350-man unit. These individuals are responsible for the construction and maintenance of Air Force facilities both at home and around the world.

In spite of his successes, Bill humbly describes life in the military as “plain, hard service.” It lacks the glory and fanfare many imagine when they try to picture it.

“Military service is just that: service. No bands, no bugles, no medals. You sacrifice much, and your family even more. You never know when the phone is going to ring at ‘o-dark-thirty’ with a six-hour deployment alert. Holidays missed, birthdays missed, vacations canceled. It all goes with the job.”

In the end, the retired airman is rightly proud of his service.

“All I can say is if anyone asks me if I made a difference, I can honestly answer, ‘Yes.’”

Finding Arthur

Bill was devastated when both of his dogs passed away in 2016. Without 17-year-old Goldie and 13-year-old Holly by his side, his life felt increasingly empty.

“Normally I am okay with being alone. I much prefer the company of dogs,” he admits. “But I didn’t realize how the loss of my companions would affect me. Days became very long. I became very depressed and lost all interest in the everyday things that gave me enjoyment.” 

Though Bill had initially vowed to never have another dog, after discussing the situation with his partner, Jeanette, he began to rethink his decision.

“Jeanette realized that dogs were a bigger part of my life than even she had realized. We talked it over and decided that it may be time to at least have a look.”

It was Jeanette who first spotted Arthur – a one-and-a-half-year-old black and white Labrador mix – on the website of Blount County Animal Center.

According to Bill, it was “love at first sight.”

“We went to the shelter and before I knew what was going on, Jeanette had Arthur out of his kennel and was playing with him outside,” Bill says. “I went out and he took one look at me and came running. We hit it off.”

“Never alone”

Bill and Jeanette adopted Arthur from Blount County Animal Shelter in December 2016. The pup immediately settled into his new home as if he knew that was where he was meant to be.

“The first night, he slept in bed between Jeanette and myself,” Bill recalls. Loving shelter dog is “best therapy in the world” for retired airman

Bill describes his first few days with Arthur as a whirlwind. The Air Force veteran had not lived with a dog this young or energetic in a long time, one who “wants to play from the time he is up until it’s time to go to bed.” 

The retired airman is invigorated by the spirit of his loving shelter dog.

“He has a ton of energy, is smart as a whip, and has a heart as big as all the outdoors,” he says. “Although the paperwork says I have adopted Arthur, he is a lady’s man and loves Jeanette – maybe a bit more than me. He sleeps between us and stays in bed until Jeanette gets up. He is a kisser and loves belly rubs.”

Another one of Arthur’s favorite activities is being chased by the vacuum cleaner when his new family members are trying to clean.

“It’s been a steep learning curve, as he loves to get into everything,” Bill says, “but I would not trade him for the world. My days are now full and I am never alone.”

Loving shelter dog is the “best therapy in the world”

Bill learned about Blount County Animal Shelter’s partnership with Pets for Patriots on the shelter’s website.

“I kept seeing dogs with the wording ‘Eligible for Pets for Patriots,’” Bill says, adding that after the free veterinary visit offered through the shelter, “all vet bills are 10% off through Pets for Patriots’ veterinary partners. We even got a gift card for all the extras to get started.”

As an added bonus, Blount County Animal Shelter waives pet adoption fees for veterans in our program who adopt eligible dogs and cats.  Although Arthur was relatively young, he met our pet eligibility criteria because he was at least 40 pounds at the time of his adoption.

While Bill had dogs previously and knew how important they are to one’s physical and emotional health, he appreciated it even more after adopting Arthur. The loving shelter dog helped bring the retired airman out of his depression, and allowed him to once again embrace life. 

Bill urges other veterans considering adoption to apply to Pets for Patriots.

“There are many reasons to share your life with a dog,” he says. “Pick one. I have seen more love, compassion and understanding in the eyes of a dog than I have in any human. Best therapy in the world.”


  1. Christine E

    Beautiful story. Arthur is such a cutie!

  2. Zee Johnston

    I am so proud of Blount County Animal Shelter for partnering with Pets for Patriots, as one of the Reps for this program, it does my heart good to see our Military and Veteran take advantage of this program. I am also a Veteran and a firm believer that Pets are Great Therapy.
    Thank You Bill,for giving Arthur and new home, new life and a new best friend!

    • bethz

      Zee, we’re so grateful for all that you’ve done and all that you do, and are ready whenever you are to help you bring another four-legged soul into your life. We love our partnership with Blount County Animal Shelter, and so appreciate your role in making these amazing stories happen for your fellow veterans and their new BFFs!

  3. John A. Smaldone

    Very good story and what a beautiful friend Arthur is! Congrats to you both of you and thank you for your service Bill! I am Air Force as well, I am also from Blount County and adopted Copper from the Blount County Animal Shelter.

    Hope you and I can meet.

    God speed,

    John A. Smaldone

    • bethz

      Thanks as always for sharing, John! So that you don’t get spammed we removed your email address from your reply, but will share it with Bill in the hopes that the two of you can get together.

  4. Alyson

    Thank you for your service – so glad that you and Arthur found each other!

    • bethz

      They’re quite a team, Alyson…thanks for posting!

  5. Jennifer

    Seriously, who could resist that face? Congrats to Bill and Jeanette on being adopted by Arthur and to Pets for Patriots for another love match.

    • bethz

      Thanks for your kind words, Jennifer – and we agree with you: that face!! 🙂

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