Marine Corps veteran with heart and grit takes chance on wayward shelter dog

Marine Corps veteran with heart and grit takes chance on wayward shelter dog
Never say never

After losing his beloved dog Baby, Calvin swore that he would never adopt another pet. But that changed when a wayward shelter dog who needed hope and a home inspired the Marine Corps veteran to adopt him.

“I had said some years ago that I would not have another pet in the home,” Calvin says. “And this is due to the loss of a beautiful, wonderful German Shepard-Husky mix named Baby. She was also a wonderful loving member of our family. Sadly she left us due to medical issues beyond our control some years ago.”

People deal with grief in different ways. Some are ready to adopt right away, while for others the prospect of another companion pet is fraught with anxiety. They know that in too short a time they will be dealing with that same nagging sadness. This was the case for Calvin.

“The loss of a pet can be devastating, and I was very indifferent for years regarding adopting another pet,” he shares. “But now that we have met Duke it’s a new beginning and we are looking forward to having wonderful adventures together.”

A family tradition of service and courage

Calvin is originally from Washington, DC and currently lives with his wife Collette in Virginia Beach. They have called the area home “on and off” since 1996. The pair have three adult children, including two who followed in their father’s footsteps.

“Our son currently serves in the United States Navy and had been on active duty for 10 years. Our oldest daughter is also a Navy veteran. Our youngest daughter is a recent college graduate and now working for a marketing company.”

For his part, Calvin spent 14 years in the finance and lending industry before transitioning to his current occupation as a business analyst. The skills he gained throughout his long military career gave him the confidence to make this major life change.

“I decided to to take a leap of faith,” he says, “into a whole new career.”

The few and the proud

In 1986, Calvin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and attended boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

“It was indeed the second best thing that I’ve ever done in my entire life,” he says. Marine Corps veteran with heart and grit takes chance on wayward shelter dog

The young Marine worked his way through the ranks. He started off in the infantry as a rifleman. In time he became a fire team leader and, subsequently, earned the role of squad leader.

“I was able to attend several schools during that time, to include combat squad leaders school, the NCO (non-commissioned officers) school, basic amphibious reconnaissance school, and a few others,” Calvin recalls. “I also had the extremely rewarding experience of attending Marine Corps Drill Instructor School. I’ve been on numerous deployments across the globe.”

To Mom, with love

By the time Calvin separated from service he experienced many different people, places and events. Yet it is a pair of unrelated memories – each involving a mother – that will be in his heart for life.

“One is a very bittersweet moment,” he shares. “While I was in boot camp entering into my second phase of training I received the worst news in my life at that time. My mother unfortunately passed away while I was in boot camp. The reason why I am sharing this with you, is because it was a defining moment in my life. Would I quit and give up or would I dig in and make my mother proud? Of course I chose to dig in and earn the title United States Marine. I know that is what mother would have wanted, she always taught me to never quit and to never give up.”

It is perhaps the unique combination of heart and grit that made Calvin a fine Marine and leader. And it was someone else’s mother who saw in Calvin those qualities that his own mother cultivated in him.

“The second moment would come many years later as a Senior Drill Instructor stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina,” he says. “After graduating one our platoons, one of my recruit’s mother came up to me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she was so grateful and thanked me for turning her son into a man.”

Leap of faith, part two

Although Calvin’s military career is long behind him, he is still very much a Marine. He is resilient, resourceful, and courageous, yet at the same time has a tender heart. The loss of the family’s dog, Baby – the first pet he ever had – hit him hard.

Marine Corps veteran with heart and grit takes chance on wayward shelter dog

“I loved her very much and I knew that she loved me too. She was also a rescue pet and such a wonderful loving member of our family. Unfortunately she left us way too soon due losing her ability to walk. Her hips started to give way and she could no longer walk,” Calvin shares. “After that I said that I would never have another pet.”

Still, Calvin and his wife Collette spoke “on and off for several years” about the prospect of adopting a companion pet. Eventually, the Marine Corps veteran decided to give it a try. It required Calvin to make yet another leap of faith.

Marine helps a wayward shelter dog find his way

It was a few days before Christmas when a then three year-old Labrador mix named Drake entered the Virginia Beach SPCA. Since 2012, the shelter and its veterinary clinic have partnered with Pets for Patriots to offer our veterans reduced-fee adoptions and affordable pet medical care.

While the circumstances surrounding Drake’s homelessness are not known, many animals of his age are surrendered due to preventable behavior issues. People often acquire a puppy and fail to provide basic training and socialization. In time what may have been cute, little puppy antics grow into big problems.

Drake was a wayward shelter dog with virtually no training or socialization. His size – he was more than 90 pounds – and his all-black coat likely contributed to him being overlooked. There is some evidence that dark-furred pets wait longer to be adopted, perhaps due to the challenges in photographing them well.

Little could Drake know it at the time, but the perfect person for him had finally decided to visit the shelter. Calvin’s eldest daughter told her father about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program.

The Marine Corps veteran saw Drake’s potential. Just four days after being approved into our program, Calvin and Drake – since renamed Duke – were adopted.

Duke goes to dog boot camp and learns “how to be a dog”

In the military, Calvin used his natural leadership skills to nurture and cultivate others. That type of responsibility requires a certain brand of tough love – a trait that would come in handy with his newest charge.

Marine Corps veteran with heart and grit takes chance on wayward shelter dog

“He’s a good pup with lots of energy, and fun-loving and very protective of us,” he says. “Unfortunately his previous owner didn’t give him the opportunity to socialize with other dogs, so he’s lacking a bit in that area.”

Calvin had a plan. He allows Duke to spend time with his eldest daughter’s Labrador-mix puppy. Sarge has been showing Duke what it is like to be a well-mannered member of the family.

“They have become best buds and hang out together a lot,” Calvin says. “Sarge is teaching Duke how to be a dog. At some point soon we will enroll in a training class to give him interaction with other dogs.”

An “always there” friend

Much like humans, Duke is a work in progress. But make no mistake; he is already loved beyond measure despite his occasional shortcomings.

“It was a great choice and I’m very happy that I decided to take that leap of faith again,” Calvin says. “Duke is a wonderful member of our family, he is a true character and a little stubborn at times. But so am I.”

Calvin and Duke have formed a special, loving bond. It is one that the Marine veteran encourages other veterans to explore.

“I would definitely tell my brothers and sisters to take a chance, and once again take that leap of faith. They will be glad they did.”

Companion pets are nature’s four-legged therapists. They not only help people become more active and healthy physically, they are equally good for the mind and soul.

Duke – once a wayward shelter dog – is helping his veteran heal a broken heart.

“I think that Duke has given me what I was missed with Baby. He gives me that feeling that he will always be there,” Calvin says, “and that’s a great feeling. As time goes on we will continue to grow and evolve together, and I look forward to that. He’s loving, loyal, protective, and – above all – a blessing for us.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    Thank you for sharing your story. Duke is as handsome as can be and what a shiny coat he’s got! He makes for good picture taking. May your time together be measured in years and there be many memorable moments.

  2. Alyson

    Thank you for your service and thank you both for opening your home to Duke!

  3. Charles Jastre

    Duke looks just like Skeeziks, my beloved Catahoula + Lab.
    Also, he had very similar personality quirks.
    Research Catahoulas; you will be surprised.

    Ask Beth to help us to keep in touch.
    You will be amazed at how much you are going to bond with Duke and he with you.

  4. DG

    Thank you (and your family) for your service. Duke is handsome and I wish you many years of happiness and companionship. God bless!

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