One particular lucky pup was rescued from the China dog meat trade and journeyed to Florida, where a counterintelligence agent used all of his skills to help the wary dog feel at home.
Send in the cavalry
Bill was born and raised in Binghamton, New York. He enlisted in the Army in April 1975. Just a couple of weeks later the two-decade-long Vietnam War officially came to an end.
At the time of his enlistment Bill was a recent college graduate and newlywed with a good job. However, opportunities for career growth in the rural Southern Tier were scarce. He believed enlisting in the Army would help him provide a better life for himself and his wife, Tina.
After basic training Bill was assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. As an armor crewman, his primary responsibility was maintaining the unit’s vehicles.
The draft had ended in 1973, nearly two years before Bill enlisted, and the Army was transitioning to an all-volunteer force. Many senior non commissioned officers (NCOs) continued to serve. While these leaders had immense combat knowledge they had little formal education.
Bill – on the other hand – had ample advanced education and little in the way of combat experience. This created new opportunities for him even as the war drew down.
“The average education level in the Army at that time was 10th grade. Having a college degree immediately set me up on a different path,” he says. “I was promoted to unit training NCO within about six weeks.”
Bill earned his Masters degree while at Fort Bliss Bill and transitioned into a new role where he would plan, conduct, and oversee training for the unit. The new position marked the beginning of his nearly 40-year career as an investigator.
“I began doing inquiries, as they were called back then,” he recalls. “I conducted small investigations of incidents, situations, and complaints. In some capacity or another, I did that kind of work from 1978 until 2016.”
Living on the economy
After five years in Texas, Bill and his growing family moved overseas. Some of the veteran’s fondest memories were made during the years he was stationed in Illesheim, Germany.
Bill managed programs and services that supported soldiers and their families living abroad. He ran the Commissary and Post Exchange and helped with housing matters. But he especially enjoyed organizing the annual Christmas production that the staff put on for families.
“The entire assignment was so unique,” he shares. “It gave a very different perspective compared to other roles in the Army.”
Time spent away from work was equally rewarding. Bill and Tina opted to live on the economy with their five children instead of in military housing. This allowed the family to fully immerse themselves in the local culture.
One of their favorite activities was volksmarching, a popular non-competitive walking sport. The organized and well-marked walks guide participants through the local countryside and towns.
Bill thought it was a great way for the family to meet people and experience new places.
“We were always doing something in the community. We enjoyed volksmarching, going out on the economy, and meeting new people. We liked it so much there,” he says. “It was really a great, great time.”
Cannon crew or counterintelligence
About halfway through his career Bill was faced with a choice that would change the entire trajectory of his life. His military occupational specialty (MOS) was being phased out. He would need to take on a new role in order to continue his military career.
The veteran remembers when Army personnel offered to help him with his choices.
“They looked at my records. They evaluated all of my education and my skills and came back with their recommendations,” he says. “They suggested cannon crew member. That’s a fine job, but I had something a little different in mind.”
Bill had considerable investigative experience and opted to become a counterintelligence agent. The family returned stateside so Bill could earn his agent certification and learn Arabic.
The second half of Bill’s Army career was a whirlwind. He attended schools, honed his investigation skills, and trained new counterintelligence agents. He even had an opportunity to move back to Germany.
Needless to say Bill never imagined that his considerable training would someday be useful to a China dog meat trade survivor.
In Heidelberg, the counterintelligence agent worked on high-level investigations, the kind he “can’t talk much about.” His time there came to an abrupt end when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
“I remember that Saturday morning well,” he recalls. “Someone put the television on and we saw what was happening in the Middle East. I actually turned to my wife and said, ‘Guess what? I’m not going to be here much longer.’ I had taken Arabic and given my background, I knew I was going.”
Life in the rocket city
After the war Bill reunited with his family and settled in Huntsville, Alabama.
The city is home to the U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Command and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Marshall Space Flight Center. Known as the Rocket City, it is a hotbed of rocket propulsion research.
At Redstone Arsenal Bill focused on counterintelligence analysis and administering polygraph examinations to prospective employees. During his three years there he helped develop a cutting-edge product that allowed users to assess non-traditional security threats.
“From a work standpoint, it was, without a doubt, a great experience for me. There was a lot of attention on us because we were doing some really unique things in the counterintelligence field,” Bill shares. “We even had a direct line to the White House National Security Council.”
Hard life of a military wife
While Bill’s career flourished, Tina tackled the difficult job of military spouse. She often received midday phone calls letting her know that Bill would not be home for dinner. When she asked where he was or when he would be back the only response she received was, “We can’t tell you.”
Bill occasionally returned home to a surprise – as was the case with the family’s first dog, Jewel. His youngest daughter desperately wanted a spotted pup after watching 101 Dalmatians, but Bill and Tina said no.
Their eldest daughter defied her parents and brought home a puppy while Bill was away on business.
“That was basically the job I was in at the time. I was gone a lot, and Tina was home with the kids and the dog. She took care of everyone and everything.”
Bill enjoyed his work environment and the support and recognition he got from his superiors. Yet knew it would be nearly impossible to replicate in another role. So in 1995 Bill retied after 20 years of service. At least he tried.
The plan was for the new retiree to spend more time at home. Instead, Bill spent another twenty years working full-time.
Like being a newlywed all over again
Shortly after retiring from the military Bill took a job with a small firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. He used his vast array of skills to investigate cases of potential insurance fraud.
The Army veteran quickly advanced to senior vice president and traveled around the world as the firm acquired new business.
Tina held down the fort at home and took on an additional challenge when their dog, Jewel, became a mother. All but one of the puppies found new homes. The runt was a frail little boy the family kept and named Devon. A seizure left him blind and Tina had to bottle feed him when he was too weak to nurse.
“My job was very similar to when I was in the Army,” Bill says. “It was a lot of time working away from home to make it all happen.”
So Bill jumped at the opportunity to move to Florida in 2009 and settle down for good.
The Army veteran continued to work, but no longer maintained a grueling travel schedule. He was finally able to spend more quality time at home, which he likens to being a newlywed all over again.
“We’ve been married almost 50 years now, but we were married about 35 years before we really started getting to know each other,” he shares. “I was gone all the time and doing all kinds of crazy stuff.”
The couple established permanent roots in a suburb of West Palm Beach. They were happy to feel more settled after raising seven children and traveling all over the world. But there were some dark days during their first few years in the sunshine state.
“She just looked like she needed someone”
Jewel had been Tina’s faithful friend for 16 years, keeping her company while Bill traveled. The house became strangely quiet when she passed away.
Not long after Jewel’s death, Bill learned that his coworker had three young Dalmatians she could not keep. The couple adopted one of the young, energetic pups in need of a new home. Candy’s vitality lifted everyone’s spirits until Devon passed away a couple years later.
That the pup who had such a rough start in life survived 13 years was nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps it was a testament to the unyielding love that Tina bestowed upon him.
Although no dog could ever replace Devon, Bill believes that the love of a companion animal is sometimes the best medicine for a broken heart. Somewhere, a dog being rescued from the China meat trade would agree.
“The experience of having a pet is tremendous. I know there are numerous studies out there that prove having a pet can be therapeutic.”
In time, the couple set about adopting another dog. Bill and Tina were looking for a dog who would not require a lot of training or exercise, which excluded many larger, active breeds.
The couple spotted the dog they were meant to adopt when they were about to leave the shelter after one of their visits.
“She was in the last area before we were exiting,” Bill recalls. “She just looked like she needed someone. Apparently, the shelter decided she might not be adoptable.”
Many prospective adopters had passed Nyah due to suspicions that she had Cushing’s disease, a condition that causes skin infections. Tina did not care; she was adept at nurturing creatures who needed love the most.
Retirement for real – really (sort of)
In 2016 Bill retired for the second time. Like many transitioning service members, the veteran would have felt lost without the structure and routine he has always known.
“I need to remain engaged. Otherwise, I’ll either go crazy or die.”
Bill works part-time as a pharmacy technician and enjoys no longer being in charge of anyone. He admits that there are some aspects of his former careers that are forever part of him.
“I do find that I tend to apply some of the innate skills I used throughout my career to everyday situations,” he concedes. “I’m always observing how people act and behave. I don’t want to do it for a career anymore, but I do spot a lot of things.”
The veteran and his wife are active volunteers in their community as well. Bill is a member of the Knights of Columbus. His local chapter helps with maintenance projects at a home for single young pregnant women.
Tina has taken up crafting. She embroiders baby bibs for the home and for baby showers at the local Veterans Affairs hospital. She cans food for the hungry, makes rosaries, and is now working on a giant quilt for a charity raffle.
“The nice thing about having a part-time job,” Bill jokes, “is that it helps pay for all of the things Tina does.”
Closer to home, the couple cared for Nyah until she passed away in 2019. She required multiple surgeries for her condition and was seemingly in constant pain. Still, Bill and Tina showed her an immense amount of love in four years.
It was not long before they started to search for another four-legged companion.
The China dog meat trade
A friend suggested that Bill check out Big Dog Ranch Rescue, which since 2012 has offered veterans in our program deeply discounted adoption fees. Despite their name they rescue little dogs as well.
As it happens, the couple preferred a small dog who would be easier for them to manage as they aged. Around the time of the couple’s search the rescue brought in 30 dogs from China, all saved from the dog meat trade.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 million dogs each year are killed in China for consumption.
The dogs were in quarantine, but prospective adopters could meet them individually outdoors. A staff member brought Ricky into the yard. He was a then four year-old miniature Schnauzer.
“He started bouncing all over the place and running around as much as he could while on the leash,” Bill recalls. “He made this grand entrance as if he was saying, ‘Okay! I’m here!’”
Ricky seemed to know that his fortunes had changed. Overseas, he and countless other dogs were being transported to a China dog meat processing plant where their fate would have been nothing short of horrific.
The pup was extremely thin and disheveled, but had an exuberant personality. Bill and Tina were eager to adopt him. However they were not permitted to bring him home right away.
“The rescue does a very thorough check before approving adopters. They wanted to meet Candy, our Dalmatian,” he explains. “And even then Ricky couldn’t come home until after he recovered from neuter surgery.”
Experience is the best teacher
Once home, it took Ricky and Candy a couple of weeks to adjust to living together. Before too long the unlikely pair were best friends.
The 20-pound China dog meat trade survivor made fast friends in the neighborhood, too. He darts out to the fence every morning and barks to see if his friends will bark back.
“One of the dogs is a Chihuahua, but the other one is a big, big dog. If Ricky ever saw it, he would have a heart attack,” Bill says. “He doesn’t even realize who he’s barking at over there.”
Despite his sweet personality, Ricky shows physical and psychological signs of his horrific life in China.
“His ears and tail were cropped too short,” Bill observes. “I also think someone may have done something to prevent him from barking. When he barks, it comes out as a strange raspy sound.”
However it is the invisible wounds that are harder to spot. Bill was able to pick up on them quickly thanks to his years as an experienced investigator.
Ricky is terrified of loud noises like thunder, and some of his fears run even deeper.
“I noticed that Ricky would begin to panic whenever I took off my belt. I observe these behaviors in him, and they all tell me that he probably wasn’t treated well when he was in China.”
Throughout his 20-year military career, Bill and Tina both learned the value of remaining flexible. They apply that quality to their care of Ricky as well.
“We simply adjust accordingly. I just don’t take my belt off around him now. He obviously has some past trauma so we pay more attention to how we do things,” Bill says.
You are my sunshine
After saying goodbye to three dogs in the span of a few years, the couple is thankful for the joy Ricky brings to their lives.
Bill and Tina agree that one of Ricky’s greatest gifts to them is that he craves their attention. He loves to be held and always wants to be with his people.
“Ricky gave me a psychological boost, and he gave Tina an even bigger boost,” Bill shares. “Having lost our previous dog, this little guy was a great addition for us.”
The retired Army veteran appreciates how we helped him with Ricky’s adoption. But his praise extends beyond just the ways he benefited. He believes Pets for Patriots can truly make a difference in the lives of other veterans and service members.
“The military experience has a huge upside for some people, but it’s also a hard life. Programs like this can really help military members and their families adjust to the difficult aspects of service.”