Once obese shelter dog a ‘shining light’ for combat Marine transitioning to civilian life

Once obese shelter dog a 'shining light' for combat Marine transitioning to civilian life

Rex proved to be an unlikely savior; he was six years old and seriously overweight. But the shelter dog was just what a combat Marine needed to guide his transition to civilian life after serving overseas.

Send in the Marines

In 2015 Austin enlisted in the Marines. He served as an artillery section chief with the 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. The battalion’s principal mission is to provide critical firepower support to neutralize, disable, or destroy the enemy.

“I deployed in 2016 to Okinawa [and] Philippines as a part of a UDP [Unit Deployment Program],” he says, “and I deployed in 2017 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

This deployment took Austin to some of the most hostile and dangerous territory in the world. Operation Inherent Resolve is a multi-nation force tasked with destroying the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

In 2019, Austin separated from service with an honorable discharge after completing his tour of duty. His world is far more tranquil now, even as his transition to civilian life remains a work in progress.

The combat Marine veteran and his wife live in California, where Austin is a full-time student studying kinesiology. In his spare time he coaches CrossFit at a local gym.

King of the castle

Within the year after Austin’s separation from service he and his wife, Julia, decided that it was time to add another member to their household. They wanted someone with whom to share their active lives.

Once obese shelter dog a 'shining light' for combat Marine transitioning to civilian life

So the couple decided to adopt a companion pet.

“My wife and I finally got our own place and have been wanting a fur companion for a little while to expand our family a little bit,” Austin shares, “and he has also been a great addition to our love for the outdoors.”

That ‘he’ would be Twix, a six year-old, severely overweight Labrador-hound mix. Nearly a month earlier the big dog had been surrendered by his previous owner to the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA.

Since 2014, the shelter has offered veterans in our program fee-waived adoptions through their campuses in San Diego, Escondido, and Oceanside.

An ultra-fit combat veteran and a morbidly overweight dog would appear to make strange companions. Perhaps Austin saw in Twix a dog who would benefit from the active lifestyle he and Julia enjoy.

On the very same day that the combat Marine veteran was approved by Pets for Patriots he adopted Twix. The big dog was given a new name – Rex – a fitting moniker for his new life as king of Austin’s castle.

From combat Marine to civilian

Austin wasted no time getting his new charge into shape. In addition to changing Rex’s diet he gradually added more exercise into his daily regiment.

This disciplined approach was just what Rex needed to restore his vitality and good health.

Once obese shelter dog a 'shining light' for combat Marine transitioning to civilian life

“We adopted Rex at six years old [and] an obese 93 pounds,” Austin says. “With a lot of walks and a good diet his is just over 80 pounds now, with a muscular tone and tons of energy. So much so that we were able to hike 19 miles round trip to the top of San Gorgonio without breaking a step!”

Obesity in pets is just as dangerous and potentially life-threatening as it is for people. It is linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, among other serious illnesses.

Rex appears to be thriving with his newfound good health.

“He loves hiking on the trails no matter the conditions,” Austin marvels. “More and more his inner puppy comes to play inside the house and out at the park, and what a joy it is to watch a six year-old puppy!”

So Austin’s plan worked – and not just for the big dog. It turns out that Rex was just what the combat Marine needed to help guide his own transition to a normal life.

“…adopting Rex was a breeze”

Austin learned about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans online. He encourages other veterans interested in a dog or cat to apply.

“I would highly recommend using Pets for Patriots to find your new companion,” he says. “From the continued support I receive regularly to their partnership with many shelters and veterinarians, this organization truly cares about finding happiness for you and the sheltered dogs needing a home.”

Over the course of 10 years Pets for Patriots has helped more than 3,000 veterans find a new best friend. At the same time we have saved an equal number of dogs and cats who are desperate for loving homes.

Our program helped Austin navigate the sometimes confusing process of finding the perfect pet.

“There were so many options for adopting a dog and it almost seemed overwhelming, but with the structure, guidance and comfort of going through your organization, adopting Rex was a breeze – not to mention the free adoption and extra money for PetSmart!” he says. “Thanks for being one of the reasons this amazing dog made it into our family, it has truly changed our lives for the better!”

For the love of dog

Adopted pets can take weeks – even months – for their personalities to emerge. Learning to feel confident in their new surroundings and with their new people is a process.

Once obese shelter dog a 'shining light' for combat Marine transitioning to civilian life

Rex has blossomed in the few months since his adoption and never hides his newfound joy. It is one of the things that Austin loves about him the most.

“He lives for snuggles and giving his love,” Austin says. “He follows you around the house and ensures you’re never alone. He is constantly communicating his love through wagging his tale and being near.”

It is often said that pet adoption saves lives at both ends of the leash. And rescuing the once portly pup turns out to be just what the combat Marine needed.

Austin took it upon himself to rescue a dog who needed a lifeline in more ways than one. Not only was Rex homeless, he was on the path to an early demise.

As Rex shed unwanted pounds he left behind his previous life of neglect. And in so doing he became a pup with a purpose, helping his combat Marine find renewed meaning in his own life.

“Rex has been a shining light in my transition back to normal life,” he shares. “Taking care of and loving Rex has given me a familiar sense of purpose that I felt when leading my Marines and has been the most incredible addition to our new small family.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    Rex is a good looking guy. Thank you for giving him a second lease in life, out of the shelter into a loving home and adventures. You make a great team of 3.
    Grateful for your service as well.

  2. Alexandra

    I’m so happy that you, your wife, and Rex have all benefitted from becoming a happy, loving family! Thank you for your service!

  3. Dave

    What a great story. It is truly heartwarming to see man and K9 bring out the best in each other. It is obvious Rex and this young couple were meant for each other!

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