Rescue dog helps Marine Corps infantry veteran through his darkest hours

Rescue dog helps Marine Corps infantry veteran through his darkest hours

James still struggles with bouts of anger decades after he separated from service. Luckily the Marine Corps infantry veteran found solace with a rescue dog who never leaves his side.

The few and the proud

Pure patriotism inspired James to enlist in the Marines in May 1994.

“I joined to serve and protect our country and our allies and my family,” he says proudly. “I was in the infantry.”

Serving with the Marines meant serving all over the world. Experiencing other places and cultures were highlights for James, who is quick to rattle off the things that he enjoyed most.

“Seeing other countries, training with the Royal Jordanian Army, making friends in the ranks.”

As an infantryman James learned how to be a combat-ready Marine. The training was serious and sobering. However, that did not keep James from introducing a bit of levity to lessen some of the stresses of the job.

“I was known as a practical joker,” he explains. “One day we were on a training mission and we got some down time for once, and I had asked if we where going to get hot chow for dinner and everyone started to laugh.”

James’ attempt at humor was shut down quickly by his superiors.

“I was advised now was not the time to ask that question. It had been a couple of days that we had a hot meal.”

In June 1997 James completed his tour of duty, separated from service, and transitioned to civilian life.

“I felt a part of something again”

Tragically, a severe back injury James suffered post-service sidelined the infantry veteran into retirement. Now he and his wife of 25 years live a quiet life in Michigan. And that life has always included dogs.

“It’s just me and my wife,” James shares. “We are unable to have children, so our dogs are our children.”

It was early 2018 when the couple were ready for another four-legged child. They are both advocates for adopting pets, not shopping for them. Like many would-be adopters they started their search on the internet.

“I found out about Pets for Patriots online,” James recalls. “I felt a part of something again.”

James was approved into our program in March 2018, but it would be nearly three months til he found the right dog.

The Marine Corps infantry veteran knows that adoption is for life, and that it is better to take the time upfront than have regrets later.

Infantry veteran to the rescue

Singer was a young, rambunctious Shepherd mix transferred from a small Michigan shelter to a larger organization. This is a common practice in animal welfare in order to increase a pet’s adoption potential.

It appeared that Singer’s previous family never trained him in basic manners. This big dog would need a little tough love to become a well-mannered member of any household.

As a former infantry veteran James was up to the task. He understood that Singer needed guidance, structure, and loving discipline – just like any child.

James adopted Singer and promptly renamed him Gunner, a fitting name for the child of a Marine veteran.

“He will always have my back”

In the years since their adoption the pair have grown incredibly close, a relationship James never takes for granted.

James feels blessed to have the stability and resources to have a companion pet in his life. Yet he is mindful of those who are far less fortunate.

“I wish I could help bring in my fellow homeless vets from the cold and rain and snow,” he shares. “It breaks my heart that there are so many homeless brothers and sisters, homeless veterans.”

It is estimated that military veterans comprise eight percent of our country’s homeless population despite being only six percent of the population overall.

While James cannot change the tide of veteran homelessness, he sees pet adoption as a meaningful – even if distinctly different – lifesaving act.

“At least this way I can protect our pets.”

Sense of belonging

James did not ask to be sidelined with a career-ending injury. And while he realizes that he has many things in his life for which to be grateful, at times his emotions get the best of him.

The infantry veteran credits Gunner with bringing him a much-needed sense of calm.

“I don’t fly off the handle as much,” he says. “When I get upset I pet Gunner and the rage goes away.”

Gunner is more than family to James. He is that brother in arms who never leaves your side, that friend you can count on no matter what.

“Whenever I feel down I look at Gunner and cannot help [but] crack a smile. No matter how my day goes his tail is always wagging,” James says. “He will always have my back.”

Like all of our beneficiaries, James and Gunner have become part of our extended family. Pets for Patriots is a vital support network that stands by our adopters years after their adoption. We are proud that many of our beneficiaries adopt multiple pets through us over time.

For veterans like James that sense of purpose and belonging is powerful. It reminds them of the bonds they created during their military service, relationships that are often difficult to recreate in civilian life.

For these reasons and more, James encourages other veterans to adopt a companion pet through our program.

“Go for it,” he says. “It will change your life for the better. It’s like being a part of something again.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    Thank you for your encouraging words to others and gratitude for your years of service I extend.
    Gunner will stay by your side thru thick and thin (been there/done that) with his mixed breed. You’ve taken him under your wings and realize the benefits he can provide you in his companionship.
    Good luck to you two for many years of being together.

  2. Dottie

    Wonderful story. I am going to share it with my husband. He is a disabled Air Force vet. Just got him a dog. He needs to see how it’s going to help his ptsd.

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