Eric vowed not to adopt another pet for a long time after the loss of his beloved German Shepherd. But a quirky shelter dog had other plans and managed to lure the Navy veteran to her cause.
Born to serve
Eric’s family is rich with military tradition. For as long as he can remember he had his heart set on enlisting. His father and paternal grandfather both served in the Army, and his maternal grandfather was in the Navy during World War II.
“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to go into the military,” he shares.
Initially, Eric was not sure which branch of the military to join. He only knew he was going to dedicate his life to military service.
“I just wanted to serve,” he says, later adding, “When I was 19 I signed up and I left.”
In 1994 Eric made the decision to enlist in the Navy upon graduating from high school. For 20 years he served as an aviation ordnanceman.
“All the bombs, missiles, everything you see on the aircraft,” he says, “that’s what I got to play with.”
Fare thee well
Over the course of his military career Eric served aboard the USS Enterprise, USS George Washington, USS Bataan, and Hilo Squadron HM-14. The Navy veteran enjoyed his work, though he still reflects on everything that he sacrificed in order to serve his country.
“It was the hardest part, leaving the family behind,” he says. “I missed a lot of birthdays, a lot of Halloweens and Christmases.”
Still, the Navy veteran has some fond memories of his many deployments. But he remembers as well how surreal and challenging it was to be at sea for so long.
“It had its good points and its bad points,” he shares. “It does take its toll on you – not seeing land.”
Eric retired in 2014. He finally had the chance to enjoy those holidays and special moments with his wife and three daughters.
The transition from service to civilian life was not entirely smooth, however. But Eric started a new and rewarding career with an environmental response organization after a brief period of unemployment and several months in a lackluster job.
“It’s challenging at times, which is what I like,” he says of his current job. “I travel sometimes, but not too often, and it’s always just good to help out the environment. So if I have to clean up a spill, I’m all for it.”
The animal whisperer
It is a running joke in Eric’s household that the Navy veteran is something of an animal whisperer, or someone who is uniquely in tune with animals. And it is no surprise that Eric is great with pets. As a child, he took care of all kinds of creatures.
“I am an animal person,” he shares. “I’ve had possums as pets, squirrels as pets.”
Still, as a young boy, Eric’s best friend was his hunting dog.
“I would go pheasant hunting with my bird dog. She would track the birds and she would get them and lie down next to them. She even caught a couple pheasants by herself.”
Although Eric was more accustomed to dogs, in adulthood he learned to love cats as well. And it turns out the feeling was mutual.
“I got adopted into cats after I got married,” he explains.
Cats seem to find the Navy veteran equally irresistible.
“I have cat nip in my blood,” Eric jokes. “I was deployed for almost a year. During that year our female cat would not snuggle with anyone. The day I came home she trotted downstairs, jumped up, and went to sleep.”
Despite Eric’s newfound appreciation for felines, dogs always figured prominently into his life.
The heart wants what the heart needs
Eric was hit hard after losing two beloved family dogs within just a couple of years. So he was not keen on the idea of adopting another shelter dog.
“I swore up and down the wall I would not get another animal for a long time,” he says.
Eric’s mind started to change after he could not stop thinking about a quirky shelter dog whose photograph appeared on his Facebook feed. That dog was Maggie. She is an Australian Shepherd and Rottweiler mix, and was in the care of our partners Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center.
The shelter has worked with us since 2012, offering a 50 percent adoption fee discount to veterans who adopt program-eligible dogs and cats. Eric was taken by Maggie’s photograph. The Navy veteran could not get the then four year-old mixed breed dog out of his mind.
“She’s got this itty body and big feet,” he says. “It just kept popping up, the same post. I just started getting smitten with her. Something was drawing me to her.”
Maggie spent one month at the shelter before moving to a foster home. Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center believed that she had multiple litters and speculated that she may have come from a puppy mill. The Navy veteran was moved by the quirky dog’s plight.
Eric learned about Pets for Patriots through a link on the shelter’s website. He thought it would be a good way to ease some of the financial costs of welcoming a new pet home.
Eric is proud of his service, but does not openly discuss it or seek programs designed to help veterans.
“I didn’t do what I did for recognition,” he shares. “I did it out of respect and out of duty to my country.”
Still, the Navy veteran decided that joining Pets for Patriots would be a great help to his family. So Eric broke his promise to himself and brought Maggie home.
“It’s a great program and I do appreciate it.”
The Navy veteran and the quirky shelter dog
Eric’s daughters like to say their dad has a biochemical disposition for animals. Maggie is no exception.
The pair have a special connection and everyone in the family is a little jealous of it. After her adoption, Maggie gravitated towards Eric despite his wife’s effort to win over the quirky shelter dog.
“It was funny because [my wife] was trying to get Maggie’s attention,” he shares, “and Maggie kept walking over to me.”
And when the family returned home from taking their middle child to college, Eric’s youngest daughter felt snubbed when Maggie did not give her the homecoming she expected.
“Maggie jumped all over me instead of my youngest,” he says, laughing.
But the girls adore Maggie, even if she favors their father.
“My girls will joke they’ve got more pictures of Maggie on their phones than anything else.”
“There’s not just one thing…”
When Eric first adopted Maggie the health of his new shelter dog was his primary concern. She had to take de-worming medication for a month, as well as other medicine and vaccinations.
“We were a little worried when we first got her,” he says. “She had two different types of worms, tapeworm, and whipworm.”
Eric never hesitated about adopting this quirky dog, despite the intense care she needed when they brought her home. As far as he was concerned Maggie was now part of their pack – and you do what is necessary for family.
Maggie has repaid her saviors with her loyalty, and has made the Navy veteran’s house a home.
“You treat them as family to the best of your ability,” he says. “We spoil the heck out of her. She gets bones, bones, bones – and more bones.”
The Navy veteran loves everything about Maggie despite a few endearing flaws. She has a knack for breaking squeaky toys, and a hard head – which one of Eric’s daughters learned after an accidental collision. And there was that one time Maggie killed a squirrel.
Still, the quirky dog is family and her humans accept her just as she does them.
“There’s not just one thing [we love],” Eric says. “The whole package is the best.”