Send in the Marines: retired gunnery sergeant saves older special needs dog

Send in the Marines: retired gunnery sergeant saves older special needs dog

Tony has committed his entire life to serving others. So it came as no surprise when the retired gunnery sergeant came to the rescue of a senior shelter dog who faced slim prospects of adoption.

Born to serve

During his more than 20 years of service in the Marines Tony saw the world. He remembers well the numerous deployments across the West Pacific while he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, including to the Philippines, South Korea, and Australia.

Each dispatch was serious business.

“These trips were most memorable because each deployment we were prepared for and mission ready for armed defense of our nation,” he says. “As a Marine we did not take this lightly.”

Tony would serve more than eight years active duty and another 12 years with the Marine Corps Reserves.

However, when the time came to separate from service Tony was not done giving back to others. He joined the Virginia Beach police to support and protect his local community.

“I achieved the rank of sergeant on active duty, retiring as gunnery sergeant with the Reserves,” he shares. “I went on to retire as a captain with the police department.”

These days the dually retired gunnery sergeant enjoys a more relaxing life. Together with his wife, Julia, he has four grown children and two grandchildren.

Life was good, but it was about to get even better.

Special dog with special needs

In the waning days of summer 2021 a petite Maltese-Poodle mix found herself in the care of Virginia Beach SPCA. She was disheveled, unfixed, and appeared to suffer from both environmental allergies and a heart murmur.

Luckily, Roxy landed in a shelter that partners with Pets for Patriots to give those more overlooked pets a second chance through our free shelter partner program.

Since 2012, Virginia Beach SPCA has made hundreds of adoptions possible through our partnership. The shelter offers veterans in our program 25 percent off adoption fees and access to their low-cost veterinary clinic.

Pets like Roxy – an older dog with special needs – are among the most challenged to find new homes.

It would take a special person to see beyond the little dog’s age and health issues. Perhaps a certain retired Marine with a tough exterior and a soft heart.

Gunnery sergeant saves the day – and the dog

Summer passed and it was early fall – mid-October, to be exact – when Tony visited Virginia Beach SPCA.

The Marine Corps veteran was looking for a four-legged friend when the shelter staff told him about our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.

“We choose to adopt through the program because [of] the multiple resources available through Pets for Patriots,” Tony says, “as well as the continual support the program offers.”

Our team follows up with every single adoption for a minimum of one year, in addition to various financial and cost-savings benefits. We aim not only to pair more veterans and pets through adoption, but to help ensure that those bonds endure.

Tony was smitten instantly with Roxy. It was just one day after being approved into our program that he made their adoption official.

The tough-as-nails Marine Corps veteran admits that it was love at first sight when he met the older dog, who barely tipped the scales at 15 pounds.

A shelter is not a home

Roxy is among the lucky ones.

The senior pup found someone who saw value in her life, who saw beyond her age and medical needs. And while she did spend about six weeks in the shelter, so many wonderful animals languish for months – even years – waiting for a home.

It is the tragic side of a commendable goal – known as “no kill” – that no adoptable animal should lose her life simply for lack of a home. Animals enter shelters through no faults of their own, the vast majority failed by people in one way or another.

But equally tragic is that animals, particularly dogs, start to deteriorate within two weeks of being sheltered. Their chances of adoption diminish the longer they are in a shelter.

Eventually, homelessness begets homelessness.

Animal welfare organizations have an incredibly difficult job and there is no shortage of caring, compassionate professionals. In recent years shelters started to devote more resources to keep people and pets together. These efforts have been met with much success.

There continues to be tremendous progress educating the public about spay/neuter, pet adoption, and responsible pet guardianship. But many animals enter shelters as strays, or as victims of neglect or abuse.

In the end, too many animals spend too much of their lives homeless despite considerable efforts of the animal welfare community. We live in a throwaway society where everything – including lives of the innocents – is perceived as disposable.

Still, a shelter is not a substitute for a home. It should be a last refuge – not a lasting one.

“…a wonderful companion”

Tony has no regrets about choosing a mature pet. It was important to him to save an animal with limited prospects for adoption.

Because the retired gunnery sergeant appreciates our focus on the more overlooked, undervalued dogs and cats an animal like Roxy – senior and with special needs – went from homeless to home.

“I choose to adopt eight year-old Roxy because older pets often remain unadopted,” he explains.

One misconception about senior pets is that they are slower to adapt to their adoptive homes. Often the opposite is true.

Older animals will have often spent a majority of their lives in a home environment and are familiar with the basic expectations of them.

As for Roxy, she has already established her place in the pack. The petite pup is equally at ease cuddling with Tony as she is protecting her new homeland.

“Roxy is a very lovable dog who loves to sit with me in my easy chair relaxing and watching TV,” Tony shares. “Roxy is very protective, and will voice her displeasure at anyone who disturbs our peace.”

While the retired gunnery sergeant hardly needs the protection of a 15-pound pup, he appreciates that Roxy wants to defend their home. It is a sweet recognition that she knows that she is where she belongs, with people who love and care for her.

“Roxy has brought a level of joy to my life as a valued member of my family,” Tony says. “She is a wonderful companion.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    Hi Tony,
    Thank you for your years of service both with the military and law enforcement thereafter.
    What a smile Roxy has on her face in the photo! Your adoption and taking her into your home with her age and health issues……it was “meant to be”. I am happy for you, your wife and Roxy, a complete circle.

  2. Jacquelyn Lasher

    Your Roxy is a cutie! So happy you found it in your heart to adopt a senior pet. It’s sweet to hear she protects you. Thank you for your service!
    God bless yiu!

  3. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, Tony. Roxy is a cuie, and it’s easy to see that she loves her new home with you and your family. God Bless you for taking the chance on an older dog that just needed someone to love her again. Praying you all have many, many happy years together!

  4. Alexandra

    I respect you not only for your service, but for seeking out a senior dog who needed a loving home! Roxy sounds very happy protecting you and your family and I wish you all very many happy years together. Congratulations!

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