It is difficult to imagine a neglected Great Dane who was so deprived that she could not stand on her own. But that was the fate of a young dog who was ultimately saved by a retired Special Forces veteran looking for a friend.
In the footsteps of a hero
During his childhood John admired his father, a 20-year veteran who served two tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret, the Army’s elite Special Forces. It was this heroism and commitment to service that would inspire John to pursue a military career, as well.
“I joined,” he says, “because I looked up to my father and the career he had in the military.”
The year was 1986 and the world was relatively quiet. The United States was not engaged in any serious conflicts and the Cold War was ending.
While John understood that world events – and his fate – could change at any time, his parents supported his decision to enlist. It followed a two-year stint at college, which John discovered was not right for him.
“I got to the point where I wanted to find something that really grounded me,” he says. “Something that could help me start my career and give me some much more structure.”
So in 1986 – just 10 years after his father’s retirement – John enlisted in the Army. For 10 years he served as a cannon crew member until he decided to change course.
“I was always drawn to wanting to do something more purposeful,” he recalls, “so I changed over to be a legacy like my father. I changed over and was a Special Forces Green Beret when I hit 10 years of service.”
Bond of brothers
After being assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, John spent five years as a communications sergeant before returning to Fort Bragg. Over the course of the next 10 years and after training in Arabic he was deployed to Kuwait, Jordan, Kazakhstan, and Qatar.
However it was the bonds between John and his fellow soldiers that account his most treasured memories.
“Some of my fondest memories as they relate to my time in service are the times I spent with my team members,” he says. “As a Special Forces ODA, an Operational Detachment Alpha, we are a really close-knit group of guys who know and understand that we have to depend on each other no matter what – life, limb, or eyesight – in good times and in bad.”
John retired after 30 years, as an E9 sergeant major. To this day he misses the unspoken connections that he formed with his fellow soldiers, bonds that many veterans struggled to recreate in civilian life.
“There is a special camaraderie that goes along with being a member of a small group of no more than 12 people, but at the time was probably more like nine or 10,” he shares. “We would spend time together in different areas, and build relationships and do things for the benefit of the nation.”
When adoption is the only option
After marrying in 1999, John and his wife Amy added two dogs to their home, Milley – short for Millennium – and Bear. Milley was a puppy who was discovered by Amy’s coworker when the pair traveled for their jobs as occupational therapists.
“My wife came home with this puppy on her lap and said, ‘Can we keep her?’ Of course, we did,” John recalls.
Bear, on the other hand, was adopted from a local shelter.
John and Amy took a ride to the shelter one day just to look. They knew it was impossible to bring home a pet on the motorcycle they were riding, but fell in love with a dog named Bear. So John rode back home, got his truck, and returned to the shelter to adopt him.
“We really feel strongly about rescuing and giving a home to dogs that need one,” he says. “When I left on deployments or TDY, temporary duty, they kept my wife company while I wasn’t there.”
John and Amy were each dedicated to careers that helped others and had fulfilling lives. But they yearned to share their abundant love with children, a desire that went unanswered for years.
To this day the Green Beret gets emotional when he recalls their efforts to start a family.
“We’d had three miscarriages,” John shares. “When I came back from the initial invasion of Afghanistan my wife and I decided that we needed to go someplace so we could figure out having kids, because we wanted kids really bad.”
So in 2002 the pair relocated to Fort Bragg. Shortly after they learned that they were pregnant with their eldest daughter.
Fast forward several years and the couple had three young daughters. However, between 2010 and 2012 they lost two members of their pack – Milley and Bear.
John and Amy thought about getting another dog, but decided it was not the right time.
“Toddlers alone are difficult, but toddlers and a puppy at the same time make it that much more complex,” he explains, “so we decided not to get any other pets at that point.”
Goodbye to the Green Berets
In 2016 after 30 years of service to our nation John retired from the Army. To commemorate the occasion the Green Beret and his young family embarked on a 37-state RV trip. Upon their return they moved into a house in Florida.
Almost immediately John felt the urge to adopt a companion dog.
“It was always in our mind that we wanted to get another dog and other pets,” he shares, “so as soon as we moved into this house we started talking about what kind of pets we want.”
The family was determined to adopt another large dog. Bear and Milley were 100 and 75 pounds, respectively. They researched various large breed dogs and John suggested a Great Dane.
“Whenever we’ve seen and interacted with other Great Danes their personalities were always very friendly, and they’ve always seemed accepting and loving. We never ran into any Great Dane that was anything but,” he says. “They have a special mentality and stature.”
However, John had no idea that a neglected Great Dane at a Florida rescue would be his family’s perfect match.
The right fit
The retired Army veteran joined our free companion pet adoption program in October 2018. But it would not be until the waning days of December that they found Lorna.
The young Great Dane was in the care of Big Dog Ranch Rescue. Since 2011, the rescue has made more than 100 adoptions through our partnership. They offer veterans in our program a steeply reduced adoption fee of $50, and 25 percent off fees for dogs rescued overseas.
Lorna was initially rescued from an online classified site. The woman who would become her foster mother noticed that she was badly malnourished. The young Dane was only a few months old, but was lame from not being fed properly.
“It was heartbreaking that this young puppy couldn’t do anything because she couldn’t even stand,” John shares.
Veterinarians had to remove a few inches of the ulna bone in both of Lorna’s front legs. She would need four surgeries to finally be able to walk.
After the surgeries were complete Lorna started her rehabilitation – and her search for the right family to adopt her. John reached out and set up a time to meet the once neglected Great Dane.
Lorna’s foster mother learned a lot about her during their time together, including that she would benefit from having young children in her life.
John’s youngest daughter was eight at the time. So while two other potential adopters were scheduled to meet Lorna, the foster mother knew that John’s family would be best.
“She knew we were the right fit for Luna and that Luna was the right fit for us,” John says.
Neglected dog is sweet as a cookie
On one of the last days of December John and his youngest daughter went to fetch Lorna. The family decided that with her new life she would have a new name.
“We changed her name to Luna as we just couldn’t see calling her the name of a cookie,” John jokes, referring to Lorna Doones.
Luna’s connection to her family was nearly instantaneous. Although she was had been mistreated and had a hard start in life, within the span of several months she was safe, rehabilitated, and loved.
“She immediately took to both of us,” John says, referring to himself and his youngest daughter. “She was a little skittish at first, but after a couple of days she just fell right in as part of the family.”
While Luna is able to walk again she is not out of the woods entirely. John will have to monitor her weight to minimize the long-term impacts of her bone deformities and subsequent surgeries.
“She has some scar tissue that may impact how well she walks as she gets older,”he says, “so we’ll just have to be really careful about how much weight she gains and keep an eye on that.”
“Oh my gosh, she’s a big dog”
Fortunately, Luna is on the small side for her breed. At just over 100 pounds she is neither as tall nor as large as most Great Danes. But the Army veteran describes her as a “big baby.”
“She thinks she’s a person and always wants to be on the couch with us.”
Mostly, the once neglected Great Dane just wants to be where the action is – and that usually means being with the rest of the family.
“If we’re sitting at the kitchen table playing a game as a family and she doesn’t like sitting on the hard tile floor, she barks at us,” John says. “As soon as I bring her bed over she’ll lay down in her bed and curl up right next to us. She wants to be a part of what we’re doing all the time.”
Luna loves to walk despite having endured four surgeries. Even though she is small for her breed, she is still a large dog. But John does not always see her that way.
“We sometimes forget how big she is until we take her for a walk and someone says ‘oh my gosh, she’s a big dog,’” he says, “and we think, ‘no, she’s not, she’s just our dog.’”
Thank you for your service
Our program gives veterans from all stages of their lives the biggest ‘thank you’ of all: the enduring love of a companion dog or cat. And while we focus on adoption, preventing pets from being returned to the shelter is equally important.
Pets for Patriots provides a range of benefits to help keep veterans and their pets together for life. John adopted Luna through our program, making him eligible for all of the benefits we offer.
“I am excessively thankful for Pets for Patriots for what they do and what they did for us,” John says. “They do a wonderful service for us veterans in helping us find pets that can help us through things.”
For years John put his service to our nation above his need for a family. And after he married, he and Amy endured serious hardship in their efforts to have children. For a time it seemed that the couple’s dreams would never be realized.
But this retired Green Beret knows a few things about fortitude and persistence. He never gave up to create the family that he and his wife had wanted for so long. A life that now includes a dog once so neglected that she could not even stand. A dog who repays her savior by enveloping the entire family with her love.
“Luna is always happy to be around us. She always wants more attention and just loves being around us,” John says. “She has joined us and really rounded out our family.”