Over the course of more than 20 years in the Navy Robert saw the world. Yet it was a petite pup much closer to home who saved this sailor and his family after the loss of a beloved dog.
The world at sea
Robert enlisted in the Navy outside of his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. He had studied history during college and, not seeing a clear career path, decided to explore opportunities with the Navy.
That decision would plot the course for the next 20 years of his life. And it opened up a world he had never imagined.
“My first four duty stations were Naval Media Centers Sasebo Japan, the island of Diego Garcia, Roosevelt Roads Puerto Rico, and Manama, Bahrain,” he recalls. “After that I was stationed on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), then Norfolk Naval Shipyard – Submarine Combat Systems Division, and finally USS Stout (DDG-55).”
The sailor had many diverse responsibilities during his time in service. He served as a TV and radio broadcast technician, a divisional office manager, shipboard brig personnel, and configuration data manager for an aircraft carrier. Robert’s memories are equally diverse.
“In 1997 while stationed in Japan I lost my best friend and roommate to an accident,” he shares, “but later that year I met my future wife.”
So many of the Navy veteran’s other memories almost read like a travel diary. Robert describes them with near picture-perfect detail.
“I also climbed Mt. Aso, the world’s most active volcano and the views of the landscape – before we climbed above the clouds – were breathtaking. As was the sky each night in Diego Garcia. Often when the sun goes down you see the sky as orange, red, pink or yellow, but it’s in the horizon,” he says. “Each night the sky looked as if it was on fire.”
When Robert was based in Puerto Rico the TV/radio station was atop the highest hill. He recalls breathtaking views of the Caribbean seas, mountains, and valleys, and how on a clear day he could see St. Thomas and the United States Virgin Islands.
However, a far more significant memory bonds him to Puerto Rico: he and his wife Leslie celebrated the birth of their daughter. Through her toddler years they enjoyed access to the base’s spectacular private beaches.
“Truthfully,” the sailor says, “I’ve been immeasurably blessed.”
“There’s plenty of love left to give away”
Robert retired from the Navy after more than 20 years of service to our nation. He and his family remained in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he works as an academic advisor at a local university.
The couple’s daughter is living at home while she studies aviation. And she became smitten with a tiny pup who would help fill a hole in the family’s heart.
For 10 years Tommy Boy was a beloved member of Robert’s family. Like many shelter animals that our program aims to save, the Pug was an adult dog by the time Robert adopted him.
“He was already three, but needed a forever home and we got a new family member,” he explains.
Robert’s daughter grew up with Tommy Boy; she was seven years old when he joined the family. But it was Leslie who took the Pug’s passing the hardest.
“My wife always claimed to want to cook him, or get rid of him – semi-jokingly – [and] was heartbroken. She acted tough, but absolutely loved her her ‘personal heating pad.’ I explained that we could get another pet and that it didn’t have to be another Pug, but we cannot compare the two.”
The Navy veteran looked at the situation with a more philosophical perspective. He believed that it is normal and healthy to grieve, but to love again as well. Robert shared his thoughts with Leslie and – in time – the family would soon be searching for another soul to save.
“I helped her realize we have love in our hearts and it’s okay if it’s broken,” he shares. “There’s plenty of love left to give away.”
Within a few months, Leslie and the couple’s daughter started to search for a new family member.
Petite pup is just the right fit
The Hampton Roads area in which Robert and his family live is comprised of several cities. And all are home to veterans at various stages of their military lives, including retirees like him.
The family looked at various shelters and rescues across Hampton Roads before learning about Pets for Patriots from Virginia Beach SPCA, one of our area partners.
Since 2012 the organization has made hundreds of adoptions through our partnership and offers veterans in our program access to their low-cost veterinary clinic as well.
“We wanted a small dog that fits our lifestyle, which is extremely important,” Robert explains.
The family saw a tiny pup who looked like a great fit. They called the shelter to inquire about Coco, who was two years old at the time, after seeing her on the Virginia Beach SPCA website.
“When they found out I was retired they mentioned Pets for Patriots, which I immediately looked up and was thrilled to learn about,” Robert says. “The rest of the story is obvious.”
The first few days of Coco’s new life were a bit rough. While it is not uncommon for adopted pets to not eat at first, it can be very distressing to their new guardians.
During one of our initial post-adoption follow ups we learned that the petite pup shunned nearly all food.
“The first week she didn’t eat or drink anything except a tiny bit of chicken and she didn’t make a bowel movement for five days,” Robert shares. “However, that has all changed. She’s on a twice per day eating schedule now and does well, for the most part.”
Luckily the tiny dog’s food costs are not prohibitive by any measure. Coco tips the scales at just over eight pounds.
“As little as she eats,” Robert jokes, “the two bags of kibble we have will last all year.”
A mouse in the house
Coco has since settled in to her new forever home. Sometimes she seems like a big dog in a pint-sized dog body.
“She’s quiet as a mouse except when she barks – which isn’t often – but when she does, it’s a lot,” Robert says. “She’s funny because the neighbor behind us has hound dogs in a pen on the other side of the fence and they howl and bark. She’ll jump right to the fence to defend us from the hounds and she’ll let them know. It’s cute!”
Most of all, Coco loves to cuddle. She loves each and every member of her family. But she has a sweet spot for the one person whose heart seemed most broken when Tommy Boy passed away.
“Bottom line?” Robert asks. “She’s cuddles next to anyone, but is a momma’s girl. She doesn’t growl at any of us and is just a sweet little Chi.”
Little boss girl
No pet can replace the loss of another. Each has her own story, personality, and qualities. And perhaps it is easier for the family to grieve knowing that Coco could not be more different than her predecessor.
“Holy cow, Coco is totally different than Tommy,” Robert shares. “She’s a deer-headed Chihuahua and is absolutely beautiful. She looks like she’s half fox more than a Chihuahua. Even though she doesn’t snore or have the comical eyes that Pugs have, which are great for comic relief, she has some quirks that are amazing. She will work to maneuver any blanket into a cave so that she is completely covered up.”
This is not the petite pup’s only adorable antic. While she is very much a lap dog, Coco check’s her family’s teeth after they eat. And she races across the yard – “at lightning speed” – almost in preparation for doing her business outside.
Robert recalls how hard it was for his wife to cope with Tommy Boy’s passing. However, Leslie has so much love for Coco that she makes outfits for her out of old sweaters.
Okay, sailor – give me 10
Even at a mere eight pounds and change, Coco rules the roost.
The petite pup has trained Robert to give her regularly scheduled snuggle sessions, without which she gets irritated. So he added cuddle time into his daily routine.
“Before I start my work I make about 10 minutes of time on the couch with a blanket and my phone so she can crawl in my lap, under the blanket and take a nap while I pet her and check the morning news,” he explains.
“That’s her daddy time. After that, she’s ready to crawl in a cushioned basket between our desks and play or sleep while we work.”
The retired Navy veteran is grateful that he found out about Pets for Patriots. The Virginia Beach SPCA Veterinary Clinic offers tremendous savings for many of Coco’s needs – so much that it is worth the extra drive and toll.
“I’m so glad we heard about Pets for Patriots. I’ve also shared it with a couple of colleagues at work whose husband’s are active duty,” he says.
“If you’re thinking about adopting a pet definitely use Pets for Patriots. It is a phenomenal organization.”
We consider every adopter – person and pet – to be part of our pack. However, we realize that the most important families are the ones created through companion pet adoption.
Robert found the pet who fits his household and lifestyle the best. A petite pup with an outsized personality who has made his family whole once again.
“Coco,” he says, “has definitely been a blessing to my family.”