Senior dog teaches Marine veteran that laughter is the best medicine

Senior dog teaches Marine veteran that laughter is the best medicine

Melinda was grieving the loss of her family pets. But the Marine Corps veteran would learn that laughter is the best medicine when a senior dog helped her reclaim joy in her life.

Service and gratitude

Melinda was born and raised in Georgia. There came a time when she was ready to challenge herself and, in the process, see more of the world.

“I entered the Marine Corps for a better life and to step outside of my comfort zone,” she says.

Over the course of several years of service Melinda had too many experiences to recount. However, one mission left an indelible imprint upon her – and taught her the greatest life lesson of all.

“Being deployed on a humanitarian campaign to Somalia taught me to be grateful for what you have,” she shares. “I saw the people who were war-torn, but took the time to smile and speak a greeting.”

After completing her tour of duty Melinda separated from the military. She would ultimately settle in Richmond, Virginia and raise a family.

“I have three grown children who all have pets of their own,” she says. “I am proud to say I raised great pet parents.”

Senior dog in need of saving

It is no accident that all of Melinda’s children share her love of animals. As the saying goes, the apple did not fall far from its tree.

But 2020 would prove especially cruel; Melinda would lose two family pets. Their absence left her feeling hollow.

While it is often said that laughter is the best medicine, Melinda was too grieved for levity.

“It left an empty space in my life,” she confides.

In October of that same year Melinda was ready to once again open her heart and home to a pet. She believes in adopting – not shopping – for a four-legged companion, and visited her local animal shelter.

Senior dog teaches Marine veteran that laughter is the best medicine

“We went looking for a pet at the Richmond SPCA,” she recalls. “They only had larger dogs and I was looking for a smaller dog.”

The Marine Corps veteran went home feeling a bit dispirited. But shelter volunteers would later call with promising news: a small, special needs senior dog had just been surrendered.

Tequila was a Jack Russell Terrier mix who found himself once again in the care of Richmond SPCA.

Every year countless dogs and cats are adopted and returned, some multiple times. Each surrender reduces their chances of adoption.

Senior dogs generally have the lowest adoption rates of all other ages combined, making their returns especially heartbreaking.

At the time, Tequila was a 10 year-old dog with numerous health issues. It is unknown whether his previous guardians could no longer care for him or whether other circumstances caused him to be returned.

Affordable pet adoption

Melinda wasted no time visiting the shelter’s website to look at Tequila’s online profile. She liked what she saw and scheduled an in-person meet and greet session.

It was love at first sight.

“After seeing his photo and visiting him,” she says, “we became his.”

Senior dog teaches Marine veteran that laughter is the best medicine

During Melinda’s search on the shelter’s website she learned about the their partnership with Pets for Patriots.

Since 2012, Richmond SPCA offers veterans in our program a reduced adoption fee of $50 and access to their affordable, full-service Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital.

The Marine Corps veteran was delighted that our program benefits were available as well.

“I didn’t realize there was a program to reduce the adoption cost,” she says.

On the very day that Melinda received her Pets for Patriots approval she signed Tequila’s adoption contract.

Laughter is the best medicine

Melinda was eager to rename her new companion, yet was mindful that Tequila likely had his moniker for many years. To avoid confusing the older pup Melinda gave him a similarly sounding name: T’Challa, the fictional Black Panther character.

The veteran’s home was once again a place of joy and laughter.

In an instant T’Challa can vanquish Melinda’s depression over the loss of her previous pets, proving that laughter is the best medicine. He is delightfully unaware that he is a special needs senior dog with failing eyesight and limited hearing.

“T’Challa keeps me laughing with his antics. It’s hard to be depressed when you’re laughing,” she says.

The senior pup settled in to his new home quickly. He is equally quick to let Melinda know when he needs something. When T’Challa is hungry he will kick his food bowl or bring it to Melinda – or just open the refrigerator himself.

Nearly everything this little senior dog does is entertaining.

“T’Challa is hilarious! He waddles when he walks, like he’s humming a little tune.”

Saving lives at both ends of the leash

When Melinda first met T’Challa she was undeterred by the his age. She works hard to keep his weight in check and has him on a special diet to address his various needs.

But in 2021 T’Challa experienced severe joint pain and other medical problems. We were honored to help the senior pup through our hero fund for veterinary care.

This donor-supported fund provides essential, life extending, or palliative care to pets adopted through our program, the costs of which would cause veterans undue financial hardship.

Thanks to our supporters T’Challa received a series of osteoarthritis injections and various diagnostic tests to rule out other complications.

Dealing with an ailing pet can be challenging, especially when they are already older and experiencing the indignities of age.

However, Melinda would not change anything about her pint-sized superhero. Besides having children, she believes that being a pet parent is the best feeling in the world.

“You’re saving a life,” she says, adding, “I am very grateful. I know he rescued me.”

In spite of his recent health issues T’Challa’s spirits remain high. He loves to snuggle with Melinda and chooses to sleep close to her in lieu of his own bed.

The little old dog seems to understand that it is Melinda who gave him this last, cherished chance – and repays her with laughter.

“Life with T’Challa is amazing. He makes me laugh everyday,” she says. “He always seems to have a smile on his face.”

We often say that companion pet adoption saves lives at both ends of the leash. As a 10 year-old dog, T’Challa faced extraordinary odds of being adopted, but he had a hero in waiting. A Marine Corps veteran whose grief could only be overcome by saving this four-legged soul.

“I want him to have a full life and pay back the joy he already brought to me,” Melinda shares. “Thank you so much for helping bring T’Challa home.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    My heart is warmed for reading this. Melinda, what a thoughtful person you are for realizing your heart was in need of getting a refill and T’Challa came into your life.
    Thank you for your service.

    A thank you also extended to Beth and her team for helping with medical expenses.

  2. Sharon A Perreault

    Thank you for your service Melinda. You have done a wonderful thing by adopting a Senior pet companion. They are so giving. Your story is so heart warming. God bless you both.

  3. Reenie McCool

    Such a heartwarming story. Thank you for your service Melinda!! And thank you for giving T’Challa a loving home!!

  4. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, Melinda. The strong bond that you and T’Challa have is clearly evident in the pictures you shared. I hope you will have wonderful years together. God Bless you both!

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