For ten months Spade was in the care of a Maryland animal shelter. One day the surrendered dog got his lifeline: a Navy war veteran who had been searching for a canine connection.
A higher calling
In 1991, Wayne was a college student studying accounting and working at a grocery store. He was on shift when Operation Desert Storm broke.
Wayne rushed to the store’s video department to watch the beginning of a war unfold.
“At this point I thought I needed to do something else with my life, other than be an accountant,” Wayne says. “31 years later I can stand by the fact that I made the right decision.”
Wayne enlisted in the Navy and, over the course of 20 years in service, saw the world.
The naval veteran was stationed stateside from coast to coast – from Washington state to Washington, DC and states in between. Overseas duty stations included Korea, Japan, and Bahrain.
During Wayne’s two decades in the Navy he would deploy overseas to Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Sea of Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Haiti. He was deployed to Afghanistan and dispatched three times to Iraq, as well.
It was the summer of 2004 during which Wayne had the most vivid experience of his long military career.
The young sailor was attached to a SEAL team and positioned on the cruiser USS Yorktown. The ship was named after two aircraft carriers, one of which sunk during the Battle of Midway and another that was decommissioned in 1970.
One night – under a full moon and with calm seas – Wayne and his team embarked on an 11-meter long rigid inflatable boat, an NSW RHIB, to be transported to the dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island and fly into Basrah, Iraq.
“We are fully kitted up – body armor, backpacks, rifle, pistol,” he recalls. “I was next to get on the ladder and the SEAL I was standing next [to], just said, ‘When you see your chance, jump.'”
Wayne mustered the courage to leap from the inflatable boat to the Jacobs Ladder, which are made of wooden rungs and roped sides to allow access over the sides of ships.
The sailor jumped and hooked one arm onto a rung of the ship’s ladder. His feet slipped off the wet rung below, and his body dangled momentarily until he could regain his grip and climb up the side of the ship.
“This is one of the moments in my career where I thought, ‘well, this could be it,'” he reflects.
In 2011 after 20 years of faithful service, Wayne retired as a chief petty officer. He now serves in federal law enforcement and, together with his wife, enjoys spending time with their houseful of rescued pets.
The battle after the war
In the summer of 2021 Wayne watched in disbelief as the United States pulled out of Afghanistan. It left the war veteran feeling profoundly sullen and upset.
“After the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, I was depressed and frustrated,” he shares. “On September 11, 2021, my wife thought it would be a good idea to go visit the cats and dogs at the SPCA to brighten the day.”
The couple visited our partners SPCA of Anne Arundel County in Annapolis, Maryland. Since 2016 the shelter offers fee-waived adoptions to veterans in our program who adopt program-eligible dogs and cats.
Wayne’s expectations were low. Over the course of a few years the Navy war veteran and his wife visited the shelter and met numerous dogs, but never had an instant connection.
That was about to change.
“…love at first sight”
At the time, Spade was an 18 month-old, 85-pound Pit Bull who had been at the shelter for 10 months. He was overlooked for so long likely due to his size and common misperceptions of bully breed dogs.
“We made our way around. We found Spade,” Wayne recalls.
“I kneeled down and put my hand on the floor near the kennel door. Spade immediately stretched his paw out of the kennel and put it on top of mine. I put my hand on top of his paw and then he put his paw on top of my hand.”
This went on for several more rounds.
The Navy war veteran just sat on the floor outside of Spade’s kennel, enraptured by the big dog with the chocolate coat.
“It was really love at first sight,” he says.
Waiting is the hardest part
Wayne knew that Spade would require work, but sensed that the dog was worthy of his effort. He and his wife believe in adopting pets for life and were prepared for the commitment involved.
For his part, Spade was still relatively young. He had been adopted and surrendered once before and spent a little more than half of his life in a shelter. And then there was his size and strength – almost 75 pounds of pure muscle – and breed mix.
“We also knew that we would be dealing with the stigma towards Pit Bulls,” Wade confides.
However, the connection was undeniable.
Within two hours of leaving the shelter the Navy war veteran submitted his application to adopt Spade and simultaneously applied to our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
Wayne and his wife visited Spade numerous times before their adoption application was approved. The Navy veteran would sit outside of Spade’s kennel, touch his paws, and talk to him. The pair were bonding already.
Yet once the application was approved Spade would spend another few weeks in the shelter.
“We had existing plans for our anniversary,” Wayne explains, “and it was not fair to bring Spade home and confuse him by immediately putting him in the care of a petsitter in a new home during his transitional period.”
Finally in October 2021 Spade set sail from the shelter. He would start a new journey bringing comfort to a Navy war veteran in need of a canine companion.
A supportive shadow
Spade became Wayne’s shadow immediately after their adoption. Spade wanted to go wherever Wayne went, and Wayne could always depend on the big dog to be nearby.
Sometimes these attachments can be unhealthy and lead to separation anxiety. Other times they are just a pet wanting the close comfort of his people, and do not stress in their absence.
Spade’s mere presence has helped alleviate Wayne’s depression.
“He can just look at me with his big, goofy face,” the war veteran shares, “and I just feel better.”
The human touch
Wayne does not recall where he heard about Pets for Patriots, but believes it was through a military-veteran Facebook group. He appreciates our longstanding relationship with SPCA of Anne Arundel County and the various benefits we offer to drive down the overall costs of having a pet.
“It was great to receive your assistance with the adoption process,” he says, “as well as the [pet retailer] gift card since we needed to outfit the house for a dog.”
Still, it is our human touch that the retired veteran appreciates most of all. Our team reaches out to every single adopter for a minimum of one year, both to help nurture the person-pet bond and to let veterans know that they are not alone.
“The team at Pets for Patriots is great!” Wayne exclaims. “They were helpful throughout the adoption process. Ted, [the] director of veteran outreach, even reached out via email and phone calls following Spade’s adoption – as a check-in.”
Wayne and his wife already were home to four rescue cats. The couple knew that some work would be involved when they adopted Spade in order to ensure a harmonious household. And then there was the issue of housetraining.
“I treated him just like a puppy after we got home,” Wayne shares. “We were outside and walking in the yard every two hours to ensure he didn’t have any accidents in the house. Now at home for just over a year, he has never had an accident.”
More than being a quick study, Spade is a faithful companion to Wayne when the Navy veteran needs him most. Spade even knows when Wayne’s body aches and will sit next to him carefully to soothe him.
But it is the big dog’s unyielding love for his people that the Navy war veteran loves most about him.
“I love that he chooses to be near us all the time. He does not wander off and curl up in another room. I love that he is eager to learn and wants to please us,” Wayne says. “It’s also great how quickly he has adjusted to being in a house with four cats.”
Spade spent nearly a year in the shelter until his ship came in. While every surrendered dog or cat is tragic, it gives them the opportunity to find the people with whom they were meant to be.
For Spade, there is no question where he belongs. And in finding his place he is playing a part that comes most naturally: being a four-legged healer.
Wayne is quick to remind his fellow veterans about the power of companion pets.
“And remember,” Wayne says, “dogs help us with depression and anxiety.”