Sailor, soldier, savior: veteran enjoys life with adopted shelter dog

Keith enjoys the distinction of having served his country as a sailor and soldier, but these days his latest mission is giving a second leash on life to a shelter dog he calls his “buddy.”

At seventeen, Keith enlisted in the Navy Reserves. After completing basic training he was assigned to the USS Rushmore LSD-14, a WWII commissioned Casa Grande-class dock landing ship that operated on steam power. Keith and Otis

“I was a broiler operator on the ship,” he says. “In order to make the steam to run on, bars of water had to be turned into steam. That’s what I did.”

The young sailor was deployed on two Mediterranean missions onboard the USS Rushmore during which time he saw the world, including Italy, Spain, France and the Azores – a group of islands off the west coast of Africa.

“I am grateful for the military,” he says. “I got to see Europe and the Mediterranean. I probably would have never been able to do that otherwise.”

First a sailor, then a soldier

Although he served In the Navy during the Vietnam War, Keith’s sea deployments did not take his ship into enemy territorial waters. Nevertheless, the sailor had his share of memorable moments during his military service, including the nail-biting prospect of rescuing fellow sailors captured by the enemy.

“I was In the Mediterranean Sea when the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans,” Keith recalls. “We were under presidential orders, if they didn’t release the crew we were to go in and get them. They let the crew go, but kept the ship. As far as I know it’s still In Korea.”

The young sailor served in the Navy for six years, two of which were active duty, before being honorably discharged in 1970. In 1993, the USS Rushmore LS0-14 was sunk as a target, many years after it had been decommissioned by the Navy.

In 1972 and just two short years after leaving the Navy, Keith still longed to serve. He joined the Army National Guard’s medic corps.

 “I served a total of five months and twenty-seven days,” he says, “but was honorably discharged due to high blood pressure.”

Despite his short service in the Guard, Keith did in fact serve in two of the five United States military branches, making him a sailor and a soldier.

Love at first sight

Years later and after moving from the city out to the country Keith decided it was time to add a dog to his family. He always had dogs, which he and his wife loved dearly.

“I really missed having a dog,” he says, “and my wife needed someone to keep her company while I was at work.”

Originally searching for a Schnauzer or Schnauzer mix, Keith came across Otis, a then two-and-a-half year-old Jack Russell and Wire Terrier mix. Otis (Keith) and his toys

“I found Otis searching the Internet,” Keith recalls. “His picture popped up, we liked him and went down to see him.”

The veteran and his wife went to visit Otis at the Humane Society of West Michigan in Grand Rapids,  one of hundreds of shelters, rescues and municipal animal controls partnered with Pets for Patriots.  The shelter offers Pets for Patriots members a 25% adoption fee discount and reduced cost pet training classes – all in addition to the many benefits provided by Pets for Patriots to help make companion pet adoption more affordable for military veterans.

The couple was instantly smitten by the little dog with the sparkling personality.

“The first time we saw Otis we fell in love with him,” recalls Keith, “the minute he walked in the room he was very friendly.”

A veteran and his battle buddy

Now enjoying his new life, Otis shows his gratitude with plenty of affection. He has even learned a few tricks from Keith.

“The first thing I taught Otis was shaking hands to get a treat,” says Keith proudly. “He does that automatically now.” 

Perhaps Otis has learned his trick too well; the little dog, once starved for love, has put on a couple of pounds.

“Otis has put on some weight since we adopted him,” says Keith, with a smile in his voice, adding that he enjoys his toys almost as much as he does his treats. “Otis has twenty to thirty toys he likes to chase. I’m trying to teach him to fetch now, but he hasn’t learned to retrieve them yet.”

The couple’s previous dogs each had a favorite person – the Pomeranian cherished Keith’s wife and the toy Poodle favored the Navy veteran – but Otis is an equal opportunity lover.

“He shares his love,” says Keith. “I like that.”

Despite sharing his affections, the little dog has earned a special moniker from Keith, owing to the special place he has for him in his heart.

“I’ve nicknamed Otis ‘Bubba’ because of him being my buddy.”

A proud veteran and new dog dad

During his first visit to the Humane Society of West Michigan, Keith learned about Pets for Patriots and its national program to pair military veterans with homeless animals. Right away, he knew he wanted to adopt a pet through the shelter’s partnership with the nationally operating charity. Otis (Keith) and Santa

“I chose to use Pets for Patriots because I am proud of being a veteran,” he says. “Anything to do with veterans I am proud to be a part of.”

In addition to the adoption fee discount offered by the shelter, Keith receives both one-time and ongoing benefits through Pets for Patriots – all intended to make the lifetime costs of pet parenthood more affordable.

“I appreciate the help they provided,” Keith says, adding that he considers the experience a success.

Keith believes that other veterans would benefit from adopting a companion pet through Pets for Patriots. He believes that pets make some of the best friends a person can have.

 “I would highly recommend veterans adopt a pet,” he says, adding, “When it comes to a pet – compared to people – as life goes on, pets have more of a tendency to stay by you than people do.”

 Find out how Pets for Patriots is helping other military veterans like Keith.


  1. Frank Klafs

    I just love the Santa shot. It brings back memories of me wearing the hat and my Gustaff wearing the coat .

    These two looks like a great pair

    • Beth

      You’re right Frank! It’s like Gus and Otis are brothers from another mother. 🙂

  2. Beth Zimmerman

    Thank you so much, Barbara; we’re honored!

  3. Barbara

    I am always happy to see the great work your organization does. This story is yet another tribute and reason to continue serving those who served. So nice to hear happy news and see rescued animals with our wonderful vets!

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