Lilo was an adult Pit Bull mix waiting for her hero in a Virginia shelter when a Navy veteran came to save her.
For nearly six years Elisabeth worked under the most urgent circumstances to deliver medical care to fellow military personnel. She served as a Navy hospital corpsman second class from May 2015 through January 2021.
Hospital corpsmen provide essential and lifesaving care to service members and their families. These highly trained professionals often pursue civilian careers in medicine after they transition out of the military.
Elisabeth was assigned to the emergency department in Sigonella, Sicily before being transferred stateside. She then served aboard the USS Normandy guided missile cruiser, which was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia at the time.
The Navy corpsman served two back-to-back deployments in 2018 and 2019 because, like all service members, she goes where the military needs her.
Elisabeth has many memories from her tour of duty, but recalls one particularly harrowing experience. A Korean merchant ship sent out a distress call to medevac a patient who sustained a severe head wound.
The young Navy veteran was part of the team that responded to this emergency. She got her first – and only – helicopter ride, but more important, Elisabeth was able to save the patient’s life.
“It was nighttime and really windy, the full moon lit everything up so we could see, and the pilots were skilled enough to pull the patient up in a liter safely,” she says. “He was transported five hours away to Djibouti to receive treatment. He ended up living after that because the helo and I were able to respond so quickly.”
Setting sail after the Navy
As Elisabeth was preparing to separate from service she started to plan her post-military life. Many veterans struggle with the transition back to the civilian world, but the Navy corpsman was not among them.
Elisabeth decided to build upon her military medical expertise and enroll in an accelerated bachelors of nursing program.
But before the Navy veteran even stepped foot into a classroom, she visited her local animal shelter. It would be there that she met a Pit Bull mix with an untapped passion for dressing up.
Since 2012 Virginia Beach SPCA has partnered with us to match dogs and cats in their care with military veterans.
The shelter offers veterans in our program a 25 percent adoption fee discount and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic without proof of income eligibility.
About six weeks prior to Elisabeth’s visit a Pit Bull mix named Lilo came into the shelter. She was five years old at the time and was discovered to have a mast cell tumor that required surgical removal.
Low grade mast cell tumors are often removed successfully, but can recur in other parts of the body. The shelter’s veterinary clinic excised Lilo’s tumor and cleared her for adoption.
There is no doubt that Lilo faced challenges to finding a home. The Pit Bull mix has the potential for a tumor recurrence. She is a large, adult dog – where many adopters prefer small dogs and puppies – and a breed mix that is deeply misunderstood.
But the homeless dog did the only thing she could do. She waited for a hero.
The corpsman and the Pit Bull mix
Elisabeth had long dreamed of throwing a needy pet a lifeline. Now that she was separated from service and settled in place it was easier to adopt a companion pet. And in Lilo she saw a seemingly endless well of kinship and emotional support.
“I chose to adopt Lilo because I have always loved dogs and I wanted to be able to have a companion,” she says, “and rescue a pet that was unwanted so I could love on them.”
Lilo’s mast cell tumor was low grade and unlikely to recur, however, most would-be adopters shy away from pets with previous medical issues. Luckily for Lilo, Elisabeth is undaunted by the prospect of her rescue dog requiring future medical care.
“…a reason to get up and smile”
For most of Elisabeth’s adult life she has been a healer and lifesaver. But after being adopted to Lilo she is experiencing what it is like to be on the receiving end of care.
“She has helped my anxiety a lot,” she shares. “Lilo is such a happy dog and seeing her smile makes me smile. She loves to play with me, is a huge cuddler, and loves to go on adventures. She’s the perfect dog for traveling and seeing her happy makes me happy.”
It did not take long for Lilo to recognize when she is needed most. The Pit Bull mix is very attuned to Elisabeth’s emotions and seems to know just what the doctor ordered.
“When I’m sad, she’s right there, cuddling me and trying to give me kisses,” she says. “I love coming home and seeing her sweet face.”
And the big dog is always ready to get styled for any occasion. It is her easygoing nature and love of dressing up that Elisabeth cherishes most.
“I love that she lets me dress her up in little dog clothes and a birthday hat,” she shares. “She loves to go on walks and play in the dog park. She also loves going to the beach with me and biting at the waves.”
We often say that companion pet adoption saves lives at both ends of the leash. Lilo was saved from shelter life which, at best, should always be a temporary refuge. Elisabeth found a four-legged, kindred soul who helps her destress and get the most out of life.
“Adopting a dog has changed my life for the better,” she says. “Having a sweetie like Lilo has given me a reason to get up and smile every day.”