Manny was reluctant to adopt a dog because he was “never a dog guy.” Yet despite the Navy veteran’s misgivings his home became a haven for numerous dogs in need.
Two paths of service
Manny grew up in California and enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. But during his service as a combat engineer he felt disconnected from life as a soldier.
The young enlistee listened to his intuition.
After three years of active duty Manny transitioned to the Army National Guard and, in 1997, separated from the military after completing his obligations.
“It was a nice break in service,” he shares. “I was a civilian for a while.”
However, the inspiration to serve our nation never left Manny’s heart. So in 2005 he enlisted in the Navy with the expectation that life at sea would suit him better.
Manny was right. He was more enthusiastic about his work, and felt that he was learning skills that would be valuable beyond his time in the Navy.
“I see how it applies to the real world once I get out,” he says.
Manny serves as a fire controlman, a highly specialized and technical role vital to a ships’ defense systems. These professionals are the core of a ship’s combat readiness. They are tasked with protecting her from inbound attack and conducting offensive missile attacks when required.
The Navy allowed Manny to see the world aboard the USS Cape St. George, USS Campbell, and USS Sterett. He completed an around-the-world tour while serving on the Cape St. George and experienced going through all of the world’s canals.
The well-traveled sailor has a hard time remembering exactly how many deployments he has undertaken in his career. He estimates at least 10, many of which were to Japan.
“I lost track,” he laughs, “it was hard to keep track of them in Japan.”
From Malta to Seoul, Manny has enjoyed the camaraderie of life on ships.
“I met a lot of good people I work with,” he shares.
An unlikely family
It was November 2018 and Manny’s wife, Gina, expressed a desire to adopt a dog. Manny admits that he was reluctant, even though he knew that there were dogs in need in California shelters.
“We were looking around,” he says, adding, “I was never a dog guy.”
But Gina felt strongly. She had always loved dogs and was home alone whenever her husband went out to sea. Manny relented.
Like most would-be adopters, the couple started their search online. Since they were stationed out of San Diego they looked at San Diego Department of Animal Services, the largest municipal shelter system in the county. It was there that they learned about the organization’s long partnership with Pets for Patriots.
Since 2011, San Diego Department of Animal Services waives adoption fees for veterans in our program when they adopt eligible dogs and cats through their Carlsbad and Bonita locations. This is in addition to the many benefits we offer as part of our mission to make lifetime pet guardianship affordable for military veterans.
Manny applied and the “never a dog guy” adopted a dog the very next day. Little did he knew that it would be the first of many dogs in need to cross his path.
The odd couple
At the time of his adoption Sammy was a two year-old Husky. He had been through three or four different guardians, each of whom returned him because they could not keep pace with his abundant energy.
“He just needed the right family to find him,” Manny explains, “and the attention for all of the energy he has.”
It is ironic that a sailor who did not want a dog ended up adopting a particularly high maintenance one, but there is no accounting for chemistry.
Before COVID, Manny met Sammy’s demanding exercise needs with trips to the beach and dog park. And the family’s 19 and 14 year-old sons give the big dog plenty of play time.
But it is Manny who puts in the hard work to tire out his seemingly tireless charge.
“I’m the one that runs him,” he says.
A combination of rigorous exercise and training has tamed Sammy’s wild spirit, but the couple discovered that he had other irrepressible urges.
“My brother-in-law brought us a cake for Christmas,” Manny recalls, “he [Sammy] got to it and ate half the rum cake.”
In 2019 the couple decided that Sammy needed a companion. They adopted another Husky named Violet who did not meet any of our adoption criteria.
Still, a life saved is a life saved.
Manny now had two high energy dogs at home. However, within a few days another pet in need came to the veteran’s doorstep. A neighbor had found a Chihuahua and asked Manny if he would see to his welfare.
The sailor’s intention was to bring the little pup to the shelter for rehoming.
Although Manny was not a fan of smaller dogs, his family fell in love with the little pup and decided to make him part of their pack. He was old and had seizures, and needed a compassionate, final home.
“We made his last year,” Manny says, which was all the time the ailing dog had left.
The family vowed to honor the elderly pup’s memory by always having a small dog in the household. So in July 2019, the family once again browsed adoptable dogs at the county shelter and found a Chihuahua named Phoebe.
Pets for Patriots members allows veterans in our program to have two eligible pets at a time – with full benefits. They can be adopted simultaneously or over time.
Phoebe was an adult and qualified for our program. Despite her initial apprehension and timidity, she adapted quickly and now rules the roost.
“She’s the boss of the house. She’s the spoiled one,” Manny says, adding, “She’s our guard dog – she barks the loudest.”
A haven for dogs in need
Manny has come a long way from never being “a dog guy.” Since adopting Phoebe the family grew again with the addition of a Scottish Terrier mix named Winston. All four dogs get along, and the Navy veteran appreciates the roles each has in the family.
“They fill that void,” he says, “we don’t want any more kids.”
But what the Navy veteran loves most is that each dog is an individual with his or her own unique personality. All contribute to lifting his spirits and those of his family, which was more important than ever during COVID lockdowns.
Despite his initial misgivings Manny welcomed dogs in need into his heart and home. The experience has been nothing short of rewarding, not to mention lifesaving for each of the dogs.
Manny is very open about how the pets he adopted are making a difference in his life. All were were once dogs in need and, now rescued, they return the favor many times over.
“A lot of us suffer with our emotions,” Manny shares. “Pets help out a lot, they really do.”