After 22 years of service in the Navy, a former deep sea diver makes another rescue by saving a beautiful black dog in need of a home.
Forged and raised
As a teen, Jeffrey remembers feeling ready to break away from his hometown of Struthers, Ohio.
“It’s a steel town, just about everybody – my stepfather, my father – worked in the mill,” he says.
Open to exploring a different path than those around him, Jeffrey enlisted in the Navy. He was only a high school junior at the time.
“I was eager to find out what the rest of the world was like.”
Deep sea dreams
Jeffrey started his career hoping to become a Navy SEAL, but struggled to pass one crucial test. However, this setback did not keep him out of the water.
The young enlistee was inspired by one of his favorite childhood TV shows, Sea Hunt, and trained to become a Navy deep sea diver instead.
Though not quite as theatrical as the antics on television, Jeffrey’s 16 years as a diver afforded him many opportunities to engage in heroics of his own. One memorable mission occurred off the coast of Lahaina, Hawaii.
“We were on a submarine that was sunk there on purpose,” he recalls, “it was a training tool for salvage ships.”
Jeffrey was part of a team tasked with moving the submarine to deeper waters.
“The reason why we had to do it is because it was becoming a danger to the sport divers.”
Serving is a sacrifice
The retired deep sea diver acknowledges that it was – and remains – a unique line of work.
“It was a great job,” he says. “I got to do a lot of things, a lot of strange things other people would never do.”
Still, it was not without sacrifice. Jeffrey recalls fondly a particular homecoming from the Mediterranean. His oldest son had ear surgery and Jeffrey was elated to get back home.
“I got to be one of the first ones to greet our families on the pier.”
Finally after more than two decades of service with many memories – some bitter, some sweet – Jeffrey decided that it was time to start a new chapter in his life. He retired from the Navy in August 1998 after 22 years of deep sea diving and tearful returns home.
The retired Navy veteran held various jobs in his new civilian life. He worked as a security guard, for the local public works department, and served as a sheriff’s deputy for 20 years.
Jeffrey is fortunate to have a vibrant family life. He has two sons and a daughter, and five grandchildren. And his heart and home were always open to cats, dogs – even hamsters.
“I’ve always had a dog in my life [at] sometime or another,” he says.
So when Jeffrey and his wife lost their beloved dog, Sampson, they missed dearly the presence of a canine companion.
“I had lost several longtime pets to age,” he shares, “and found the house empty without the sound of paws on the floor or sitting on the sofa next to me.”
In February 2020 the couple returned to Virginia Beach SPCA, the same shelter from which they adopted Sampson years earlier.
Virginia Beach SPCA offers veterans in our program 25 percent off adoption fees and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic. Shelter staff told Jeffrey how our program works and suggested that he apply.
The retired deep sea diver did not need any encouragement to adopt, not shop. But he does appreciate Pets for Patriots and our mission to save lives – at both ends of the leash.
“It’s the best thing you can do,” he says of adoption, “if it gets a dog out of a shelter.”
Same place, right time
Jeffrey walked through the halls of the shelter. He found himself drawn to a beautiful black dog named Degan.
“He was in the same pen that my dog Sampson was in,” he says. “He reminded me of Sampson.”
It could have been coincidence, fate or nostalgia. Or maybe being approved into our program on Valentines Day tugged on Jeffrey’s heartstrings.
Regardless, the deep sea diver was smitten.
So just one day after being accepted into our program Jeffrey welcomed the big black dog into his family. He changed his name to Cody Degan and took him home, though not without a minor struggle.
“I had to pick him up and put him in the car,” the Navy veteran recalls. “He was shaking like a leaf.”
Many people do not realize that pets of all ages are available at their local animal shelters. While Cody Degan was just under a year old at the time of his adoption, he qualified for our program as a larger breed dog.
It was clear that Cody Degan had a lot to learn, so Jeffrey and his wife decided to seek professional training. That investment has paid off by helping the big dog with basic manners and reducing his anxiety around unfamiliar things.
“He does a lot more things than he did before,” Jeffrey says. “When we call him, he comes.”
And Cody Degan has his own way of calling upon his savior, which he does every morning faithfully.
“He’s like an alarm clock,” Jeffrey explains. “He comes in and shakes his head, and he wakes me up to go outside.”
The retired deep sea diver does not seem to mind. Jeffrey has witnessed his beautiful black mutt blossom from a shut-down shelter pup to a more confident, outgoing dog.
There is one habit, however, that training has yet to resolve. Like many dogs, Cody Degan does not like delivery trucks.
“He just barks like crazy when he sees one,” Jeffrey shares. “I keep wondering, what would he do if he caught one?”
Deep sea diver and his dog
Although Jeffrey’s years of lifesaving in the Navy are behind him, the impulse to rescue those in need remains strong. He has always had a heart for shelter animals and believes that adopting a pet is mutually beneficial.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he says. “To have somebody to take care of, and the dog takes care of them, too. It’s like a symbiotic relationship.”
Shelter life is a distant memory for Cody Degan. The ebony-coated dog now has a yard to run in, but is perhaps most content by Jeffrey’s side. The retired deep sea diver would not have it any other way.
“He’s been an exceptional dog, plus he keeps me company,” he says. “He is my forever pup.”