Navy rescue swimmer gets lifesaving lessons from rescued shelter dog

Navy rescue swimmer gets lifesaving lessons from rescued shelter dog

The military taught Matthew a great deal about life. So did an unwanted mixed breed dog who showed this Navy rescue swimmer what really matters most.

“We become stronger with others”

Naval aviation rescue swimmers serve by the motto, ‘So that others may live.’ They are legendary for executing some of the most daring lifesaving missions under dangerous and unpredictable conditions. These service members are highly trained to the particular platform to which they are assigned.

Matthew served as a search and rescue swimmer and survivalist, attached to a Navy helicopter unit. While he has many hair-raising memories from his Navy career, his most meaningful memory is a lesson learned.

Navy rescue swimmer gets lifesaving lessons from rescued shelter dog

“The best experience of my time in the military is one I carry with me today,” he says, “That with the right support and team that anything is possible. We become stronger with others.”

This lesson would take on new meaning sometime after the Navy rescue swimmer separated from service.

Lifesaver in search of a lifeline

It was 2016 and a very turbulent year for Matthew.

The Navy veteran bid goodbye to both of his beloved 14 year-old dogs. In addition, he experienced what he describes as a “catastrophic personal event.”

All of these tragedies befell the rescue swimmer within the span of a few short months. It was clear that this lifesaver needed a lifeline of his own.

Matthew is unsure where he learned about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. He suspects it may have been through the Veterans Administration, which refers veterans to us from across the country.

The Navy veteran had originally applied to our program in 2014, but life got in the way and he decided to postpone pet adoption. A little more than two years later Matthew called us to say he had a dog on hold at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit.

Zena was a large, young Husky-Pit Bull mix who had been transferred from another shelter. She had been found as a stray more than two months earthier and was being treated for various skin infections.

Since 2011, the Michigan Humane Society has offered veterans in our program fee-waived dog and cat adoptions. Veterans can adopt from any of their three adoption centers or their numerous satellite shelters in major pet stores. In addition, our veterans receive 10 percent off fees at all three Michigan Humane Society veterinary clinics.

Pets for Patriots keeps all applications indefinitely so we were able to help Matthew complete his dormant application. And on the first day of the last month of 2016, the Navy veteran saved two lives: an unwanted dog’s and his own.

Navy rescue swimmer rescued by adopted dog

Because she was found as a stray, Zena was just a temporary name given to her at the shelter. Matthew renamed her Abigail and it did not take long for the pair to start their many adventures together.

Abigail’s embrace of outdoor life makes her the perfect pet for Matthew. Still, the Navy veteran admits that it is hard to pick just one thing that he loves most about his four-legged companion.

Navy rescue swimmer gets lifesaving lessons from rescued shelter dog

“Oh man. I love everything about her,” the rescue swimmer shares. “I love spoiling her. She’s ready to do anything at a moments notice without reservation. We hike, bike, paddle board, kayak, and explore. I love watching her experience new things.”

Matthew appreciates that years after he first applied we stood ready to help him adopt a companion pet.

We understand that plans can change and always try to help veterans when they are ready to adopt.

It is for this reason and for the many benefits we offer that Matthew recommends other veterans consider adopting through our nationwide nonprofit.

“Because there’s no reason not to,” he says. “Pets for Patriots helps to set you and your pet up for success.”

Abigail – whom Matthew calls Abby, as well – has helped ground her savior in ways that he will carry with him forever. Her zest for life, her devotion to him, her love without boundary. It is these intangible qualities that have made Abigail a true lifesaver.

“Abby has really helped to get my perspective back on what is truly important. Love, caring and commitment. Everything else is just stuff,” Matthew shares. “She and I have been through so much together. She has taught me to care on a much deeper level.”


  1. sylvia luger

    beautiful…we need more of this in today’s world….LOVE…a four letter word we need to use more often

  2. sylvia luger

    Beautiful…love this and so much of this needed in todays world. Love. ….a four letter word we should use more often

  3. dog vitamins

    Thank you very much for your article. I have always tried to show everyone around that dogs are capable of more than just sitting at your house and eating. They are excellent companions and lifeguards, as described in this article. This story has become the real proof of my statement. In fact, dogs are a great friend who can help with many problems. Everything is beautiful in this story, Abigail herself, her owner, their story and especially Abigail’s beautiful eyes. This is so amazing. She is beautiful. This story can even become inspiring for people who are going through a difficult period of life.

  4. Lori

    I noticed Abigail’s beautiful two different eyes. My Dad served 25+ years USN repairing helicopters.

  5. Christine vercellino

    Beautiful, Abbie is beyond a blessing. Best buddies forever. You will always have her loyalty, love and stong companionship , right by your side. We are never alone

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