Phyllis lives a life of compassion and service. Now the retired Air Force nurse devotes herself to saving disabled senior dogs to let them know that their lives matter.
Military service was a family affair for Phyllis, inspired by a deep patriotism and abiding love for our nation.
“I entered the service with my six cousins,” she says. “We all felt a duty to help United States during the Vietnam war. I enlisted in Air Force and the others in different branches.”
For the next 28 years Phyllis worked in various military hospitals. Her service took her to Travis and Mishawaka Air Force hospitals, Walter Reed Medical Center, and Bethesda military hospital. The work was extremely fulfilling because the challenges – and rewards – were tremendous.
“I loved working in military hospitals because everyone is so grateful for the care,” she explains. “I had a young soldier, 18 years [old], who broke his back while on duty. He was paralyzed from the waist down.”
Phyllis was committed to helping this soldier continue to live a productive life. She had a very creative idea.
“I was able to get him a Segway, which enabled him to live independently. He was able to stand up and move everywhere,” she says. “This made my heart so happy.”
Phyllis started her work on the general floor of the hospital and eventually transitioned to case manager for wounded warriors.
The Air Force veteran was almost purpose-built to help the most severely injured service members. She would work a total of 42 years in nursing in both military and civilian roles before retiring.
Although Phyllis was no longer working she remained passionate about caring for those most in need.
The giving goes on
Phyllis decamped to Annapolis where she lives in a retirement community. She and her daughter stay busy – and fulfilled – rescuing disabled senior dogs.
“I have a senior dog who has cancer and is partially blind,” she says of her resident dog. “Squeaky was taken from a hoarder. Her back is bent from being squeezed in a cage.”
Squeaky is Phyllis’ newest project in compassion.
In September, 2021 Squeaky was a then 10 year-old Chihuahua with a host of medical challenges. She has alopecia, a heart murmur, a luxating patella, nuclear sclerosis in both eyes, and skin sensitivities.
The pint-sized pup was rescued from a hoarding situation and appears to have had almost no human interaction.
Senior dogs are among the hardest to place pets.
Most prospective adopters fear large medical bills, or are hesitant to adopt a pet who may have just a few years – or months – to live. Still others are concerned about an animal’s unknown past.
Phyllis never retreated. The retired Air Force nurse had longed for a dog as a child. Now she is in the position to care for those who are in the sunset of their lives.
“I always wanted a dog growing up. I couldn’t have one because my family lived in a small apartment,” she explains. “When I went into the military I inherited a dog from my roommate who was deployed overseas. Since then I have always had a dog – or two or three.”
The Air Force veteran already had a Dachshund named Sparkey who has malignant cancer. But Phyllis believed he would benefit from a companion and she needed another pup to nurture. That lucky dog would be none other than Squeaky.
“Squeaky is special,” she insists, “because she was never hugged or socialized while she was with a hoarder.”
Old dogs rule
Senior Dog Sanctuary in Maryland joined our free shelter program in 2018. Since then we have made possible more than 50 adoptions through our partnership. All dogs in their care qualify for our program because they are seniors, and the sanctuary offers our veterans half-off adoption fees.
“I found out about your program from my daughter,” Phyllis recalls. “She also takes care of senior disabled dogs. She has Thelma who has cancer and can barely walk, and Louise who has one eye.”
Thelma and Louise were found abandoned on a roadside. While animal abandonment is illegal in every state in the country, sadly it persists because there are seldom witnesses to these cruel, cowardly acts.
Squeaky endured a different kind of struggle. She was rescued from a hoarding situation and appears to have had little human contact, much less any love. Phyllis was drawn to her precisely because the tiny, old pup was in such dire need.
During her four decades of nursing the retired Air Force nurse learned a lot about healing those with the most profound wounds.
“I feel good about helping dogs most people don’t want. These are castaways that aren’t puppies, and have imperfections,” she explains. “Squeaky hides under a blanket, afraid to come out. I work with her to not be afraid and cuddle her often.”
A retired nurse who never stopped working
Phyllis was delighted to learn that a program exists to help the most overlooked, undervalued homeless dogs and cats.
The benefits we provide help make lifetime pet guardianship more affordable and reduce the possibility of animals being surrendered to shelters.
“I think your program is great,” Phyllis says. “Disabled dogs need someone who understand them. Dogs love unconditionally.”
The retired Air Force nurse has a shorthand for each of the animals she and her daughter save. They serve as a stark reminder of the everyday heroism involved in caring for these once unwanted dogs.
“Thelma is the white skinny one who has malignant cancer. Louise is the white one with one eye. The Doxie is Sparkey, who lives with me and Squeaky. He has malignant cancer,” she says. “The brown one is Squeaky, who is learning to be around humans.”
“She has so much love to give”
Phyllis’ dedication proves that even the most neglected, abused animals are capable of rehabilitation. While Sparky may never be completely comfortable around people, she is proving that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. Above all, she is learning that her life matters and that she is worthy of love.
Still, the pint-sized pup is not the only one to benefit from her adoption.
“Squeaky loves to go on walks. She helps me get the exercise I need each day,” Phyllis says. “I taught her how to bark while I sing a song and dance. She loves that. I’m teaching her she has her own dish of food and she doesn’t have to eat out of a common dish.”
We often say that companion pet adoption saves lives at both ends of the leash. The most adoption-challenged dogs and cats are spared death or chronic homelessness. And their new human guardians are often reinvigorated with a renewed sense of purpose in their own lives.
Phyllis is a retired Air Force nurse who never stopped caring for others. She is a seemingly endless well of love and compassion.
But even the givers in this world need validation, too. And that is where this once hapless pup, neglected almost beyond repair, makes her mark.
“Thank you so much for your help,” Phyllis says. “Squeaky is perfect for me. She has so much love to give.”