Retired naval aviator rescues four-legged copilot after losing a beloved dog

Retired naval aviator rescues four-legged copilot after losing a beloved dog

John retired after 20 years of service as a Naval aviator and commander. After losing his beloved dog in February 2020, he and his wife decided to adopt another four-legged co-pilot.

All roads lead to flight school

As a young boy growing up in Abilene, Kansas, John knew he wanted to become a pilot. His oldest brother – a Naval aviator and thirteen years his senior – played a big part in nurturing his dream to fly.

“He and I were exceptionally close,” he shares.

John set his heart on attending the prestigious United States Naval Academy, wanting to follow that same flight path. In 1963 he graduated from high school and went straight into the academy at Annapolis. And he loved every moment.  

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” he says. “For me, it was a lot of fun.”

In 1967 John graduated from the academy, got married ten days later, and went off to flight school.  

Upside-down dreams

After advanced schooling the young naval aviator spent the next 16 years flying fighter aircraft. Piloting F-4’s and F-16’s was both an adventure and a challenge. Still, the experiences John had exceeded even his own high expectations.

“The joy and the fun of flying off of a carrier during the day,” he says, “and the sheer panic of landing at night.”

John spent most of his military career stationed on the East coast, but not before first being stationed at Barbers Point in O’ahu, Hawaii. The Naval air base was among those hit during Pearl Harbor and was closed in 1999.

However, not all of the naval aviator’s time was spent in such beautiful surroundings. John completed six deployments as a fighter pilot during his 20-year career before retiring in 1987 as a commander. Sometimes he is still in disbelief that his military career offered so many opportunities to experience pure joy.

“To be paid to do that was almost unbelievable,” he marvels. “Everyday that I got airborne and got upside down was a wonderful day.”

Following his retirement John studied to become an information technology network engineer. He secured a job as a civilian employee with a naval contractor, which helped to ease his adjustment from service to civilian life

Retired naval aviator rescues four-legged copilot after losing a beloved dog

“I cheated a little bit because I went to work for a contractor working for the Navy. Things were pretty familiar. I understood how the Navy worked,” he says. “It was a very gentle transition.”

John worked for the same company in Norfolk, Virginia for 27 years before retiring for good. These days he enjoys woodworking and the company of Jane, his wife of 53 years.

In search of a copilot

John has felt comfortable with dogs ever since he was a toddler.

“I used to take a nap on our dog,” he recalls, “and he wouldn’t move an ear until someone picked me up.”

Through more than 50 years of marriage the naval aviator and his wife have always made room in their home for shelter dogs. John estimates that the couple have never gone more than three months without a dog in their home.

In recent years dogs have become an even more vital part of the couple’s life since their only daughter is grown with a family of her own. So after their 14 year-old dog passed away in February 2020, they knew what came next. 

It was time to adopt a dog.

“We sat around and mourned him for three weeks,” John shares. “I finally said, ‘We got to do something about this.'”

“He was frightened”

John and Jane made a trip to the Virginia Beach SPCA. The staff encouraged John to apply to Pets for Patriots after learning that he was a veteran. The shelter offers a 25 percent adoption fee discount to veterans in our program and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic without proof of income eligibility.

During the course of their visit the pair met with a few dogs that day. But they were both drawn to a then four year-old terrier-mix named Marley. 

“He was not hostile, but he was not friendly,” John recalls. “He was frightened.”

Retired naval aviator rescues four-legged copilot after losing a beloved dog

Marley had been surrendered by his previous owners and had been at the shelter for a few days. John thought the dog seemed “nervous as a dickens.”

“He looked up at us like, “What are you going to do about it?’” John says. “He was a good size for us to be able to handle. And he seemed like a really cute boy, he got to choose us.”

The trio’s fate was sealed.

The retired naval aviator found his new wingman. He knew the frightened little dog would need time, love, and patience to overcome his fears.

“We sought to love him if we could.”

Marvelous Marley and the naval aviator

John and Marley were adopted in March 2020 on the very same day that the Navy veteran was approved into our program. Nearly one year later Marley is “unbelievably spoiled,” has since mellowed, and fits right into his new family. 

“To say he’s warmed up to us would be an understatement,” John says. “He’s done a marvelous job of training us.” 

And the little dog proves that not everything about the COVID-19 pandemic is bad. Life in quarantine means that Marley is getting extra attention.

“He is certainly the center of our existence right now,” John says. “He pretty much rules the roost around here.”

And Marley knows it. When he is being particular about eating he enjoys having Jane hand feed him his breakfast. 

Rescue pup’s presence is a present

Due to being “a little handicapped” John is unable to take Marley on long walks. But the feisty pup does not want for exercise.

Marley’s days are filled with of tug-of-war – sometimes a dozen games a day – and following John where ever he goes. He even has a few special talents, including a knack for catching toys in his mouth and communicating with his eyes and ears.

“He talks with his ears. They move a great deal,” John observes. “From straight-up curiosity to laid-back in between.”

Marley’s entertainment value is undeniable, but his most loved role is that of faithful companion.

“He is a presence,” John says. “You know he’s here. If he’s outside, I miss him in the house.”

John recognizes the support that a companion pet offers simply by being close by. The naval aviator enjoys talking to Marley and admits that being followed by him around the house is his favorite thing. 

“He just likes to be close and I like being close to him.”

Pet adoption is a privilege

John is grateful to be able to rescue his newest friend because there are so many animals in need. The retired aviator supports other veterans who are seeking a new best friend. He hopes they will consider the benefits of companion pet adoption.

John enjoys reading our blog for the stories of other veterans who have adopted through our program. The comfort they get from their pets – and the care those pets get from their new guardians – resonates with him.

“I think your program is just terrific,” he says. “I know there are veterans that are in more difficult circumstances than I am and the caring that they get is great.”

Above all, the retired aviator is adamant that people should adopt pets, not shop for them. He and Jane have cherished all of the rescue dogs they have welcomed into their lives over the years. And John knows that the animals repay their saviors many times over.

“There are so many wonderful animals that need a good home. Providing a safe, warm environment for Marley, to me, it’s a privilege,” John shares. “To me, I get so much more loving from him back. It’s a no-brainer. It’s wonderful. It’s a win-win situation.”

1 Comment

  1. Christine E

    Marley is incredibly adorable. So glad you and your wife gave him a chance to come out of his shell. Seems like a match made in heaven now! Thank you for your service.

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