Samantha has always loved animals. So it was no surprise that the Air Force veteran and single mom turned to pet adoption to help make her young family whole.
The ties that bind
In 2010 Samantha enlisted in the Air Force and served two tours of duty before separating from service in 2018. Her military occupational speciality, or MOS, was tactical aircraft maintenance. These highly trained professionals are responsible for ensuring aircraft flight readiness at a moment’s notice.
Samantha specialized in maintaining the C-130 Hercules, an iconic military transport plane in service for more than 50 years.
After Samantha separated from the Air Force she found aspects of civilian life lacking. Like many veterans, she missed the tight-knit relationships she formed during her eight year military career.
“My favorite part about the military was the camaraderie,” she shares. “Serving in the military is a unique experience and you can’t fully ‘get it’ unless you’ve done it. I made lifelong friends with men and women I consider to be my brothers and sisters.”
The missing link
As a single mother of two young children Samantha did not have the luxury to dwell on what she missed from military life. Her job is giving her kids the best lives that she can provide for them.
While Samantha loved being a mother and had a fulfilling job in an animal shelter, something was lacking.
“Since exiting the military to focus on my children I realized we were missing something,” she says. “That something was a pet to spoil and adore. Civilian life allows me the stability to commit to a pet and I was excited to add [a pet] to the family.”
At the time, the Air Force veteran was working at one of our adoption partners, Anne Arundel County Animal Control.
Since 2016 the municipal shelter has offered fee-waived adoptions to veterans in our program, and with us has made possible dozens of dog and cat adoptions.
Samantha witnessed other veterans adopting program-eligible pets and decided to apply.
“I learned about Pets for Patriots when I was an animal shelter employee. I saw several pets adopted through the program, and thought it was wonderful and mutually beneficial to the vet and the pet.”
Oh baby Merbaby
So in March 2019 Samantha applied to Pets for Patriots and was approved. Yet it would be three weeks later that the single mom found the right pet to add to her young family.
Ty was a then three year-old cat with a striking tiger-like coat and dollops of white fur. It is easy to see why he caught Samantha’s eye.
Upon adopting Ty, the Air Force veteran renamed him Mortimer. But he was quickly renamed yet again – this time by one of the children – to Merbaby.
Single mom gets life lessons from adopted cat
The fetching feline was instantly beloved by Samantha’s family. And having a pet was the perfect opportunity for the single mom to give her kids important life lessons, too.
“I also love the opportunity to teach my children responsibility and compassion. They take great pride in taking care of their cat,” she says.
Samantha has benefited from Merbaby’s presence as well. Like most companion pets, the tiger-striped cat forces Samantha to live in the moment and appreciate the little things in life.
“Merbaby has taught me to slow down and relax. I can be a mover and [am] constantly completing task,” she shares. “I get anxious when I’m running late – if you’re not early you’re late! – but with Merbaby I’m delightfully forced to sit down and scratch his little chin!”
Still, the tiny cat has a big personality. Every morning at precisely 6:22 he reminds Samantha that it is time for his breakfast. He will only drink water out of a fish bowl. And much like a dog, he runs to the front door to greet Samantha when she returns home.
“Cats teach us lessons that dogs don’t,” Samantha observes. “They are way more selective with their love and being chosen by a cat is extra special. I’m Merbaby’s favorite person and I allow myself to be flattered by that.”
For the love of old dogs
It would be several months later that Samantha felt called to adopt another pet in need.
So in January 2020 the single mom visited our partners Senior Dog Sanctuary of Maryland to ask about adding a more mature dog to her family.
The shelter joined our adoption partner program two years prior and has since placed more than 30 dogs into loving military homes. Like Anne Anne Arundel County Animal Control, the Sanctuary waives adoption fees for veterans who adopt program-eligible pets.
Samantha was extremely thoughtful about why she wanted a more mature dog.
“I decided to go with an older dog for several reasons. The first being that I am realistic about my lifestyle. As a single mother with two small children I wasn’t prepared to manage a puppy. I love dogs and my home felt incomplete without one, but I knew starting from scratch with training and socializing was not the move,” she shares.
“Second,” she added, “I love an underdog.”
From one military family to another, with love
While at the shelter Samantha described her family’s routines and asked which dogs might be a good fit. The staff showed her two dogs, each of whom would be compatible with the single mom’s household.
“I felt a connection with both so I simply asked who they thought was less likely to be adopted,” she explains.
Beau was 14 years old. He was both bigger and older than the other dog Samantha met, making him less appealing to adopters. Unlike many animals who enter shelters, Beau’s backstory was known. And it was heartbreaking.
“Beau had previously been owned by a military family who had two children. He spent all of his 14 years with them,” Samantha says. “But then they were stationed in Hawaii and they feared the transport and quarantine would kill him. They raved about him before making the painful decision to send him to the rescue.”
Samantha is no stranger to the challenges of military life after having spent eight years in the Air Force. Beau’s predicament touched her heart.
“The military can cause a lot of sacrifice,” she says. “It’s an honor to give this part of their story a happy ending. Beau is safe and loved.”
“…so much zest for life”
Every adopted pet needs time to adapt to their new life because everything they once knew has changed. Their homes, neighborhoods, and people. The infinite things that make up their days are different. And while mature pets may take longer to adjust, they are no less capable of learning new things.
Fortunately Beau was accustomed to being part of a family with children. It is less clear if he was used to sharing his home with a cat.
“Beau is often the center of dress-up,” Samantha shares. “He is incredibly patient. As for him and the cat, Beau desperately wants to play, but Merbaby is not about that life. Merbaby has access to parts of the house that Beau doesn’t, giving him a place to relax. I make sure both pets get plenty of quality time with the family.”
Above all, the single mom delights in Beau’s amazing spirit. The senior dog’s energy is infectious and has compelled her to lead a more healthful life.
“I love how Beau still has so much zest for life. He will go [from] grandpa to puppy in 2.5 seconds,” she says. “He makes me laugh and forces us to be active. This old guy will not let a day pass without getting his walk.”
The joy of senior pets
Beau is not just a spirited older dog; he’s quite protective of his savior, too. On a recent walk in the neighborhood a man approached them in a way that made both Samantha and Beau believe he had ill intent. Beau growled and scared the man away.
Samantha will never know whether the man who passed them on the street was just odd or if he meant them harm.
“What I do know,” she says, “is my half deaf, cloudy-eyed, fourteen year-old rescue dog is a bad ass mama jama.”
The Air Force veteran and single mom has no regrets about opening her heart to a senior pet. She wishes other people would do the same. And she believes that many would-be adopters have misconceptions about mature dogs and cats.
“If you have considered an older dog but have been hesitant… stop. You are denying yourself so much joy,” she says. “Sure, you may have less years with an older dog, but you get to skip the chewing, the pooping on the rug, and starting at square one with training. There will be an adjustment, but I guarantee unconditional love, companionship, and gratitude.”
By all accounts Samantha already had a full and fulfilled life as an Air Force veteran and single mom to two beautiful children. But it was not until she added a little cat with a big personality and a zesty senior dog that her family felt complete.