Brandon wanted a dog to keep his wife company while he is at sea. The young Navy veteran would have never thought that a twice surrendered dog would be the perfect match for his young military family.
“I wanted to travel the world”
Brandon grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee as the second of three siblings. He was a talented wrestler in high school and had opportunities to wrestle in college.
However, Brandon had doubts about the costs of pursuing higher education and chose a different path.
“I didn’t want to go into financial debt from school, so I joined the military,” he says. “I wanted to travel the world.”
It was difficult to part with wrestling, but the Navy offered Brandon opportunities he could not get in college. So in 2017 after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy.
Sailing in service
Brandon entered boot camp which, in retrospect, he considers to have been “fun.” He was underestimated often because of his size.
“I was a heavier wrestler,” he explains.
“Coming in people didn’t think I was an athletic person, but I was. It was just the sport I was doing. I couldn’t drop too much weight.”
The young sailor put his athleticism to the test and trained as a boatswain’s mate, known as ‘the heart of every ship.’
This vital role has a wide scope of responsibilities including ship maintenance, standing lookout, and assisting with search and rescue.
“It’s not an easy job by any means,” he shares. “We train and direct and supervise everyone on the ship on deck seamanship.”
In short, there are few duties untouched by boatswain mates.
“We do everything,” Brandon says.
To date, the sailor has deployed to the South China Sea and the Pacific Rim, where he participated in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC. It is the largest international maritime warfare exercise in the world, designed to foster collaboration and security across all seafaring waters.
Brandon twice had the opportunity to be part of RIMPAC training.
Rest and sleep were hard to come by when the young sailor was at sea. However, Brandon enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow sailors and the higher purpose of his service.
“You kind of see what the U.S. military is all about when you see families smiling,” he says. “They get to live a peaceful life because of what me and other people do.”
A growing military family
Brandon is currently stationed in San Diego, the second largest naval base in the United States. He and his wife, Monique, are expecting their first child.
The young sailor thought it would be a good idea to adopt a dog to keep her company when he deploys.
Monique was not on board at first. So Brandon began secretly searching online for the perfect pet. He was convinced that he would eventually sway his wife.
One day in the fall of 2021 Brandon made a fateful call to San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. Since 2014, all of the shelter’s locations partner with us to offer fee-waived dog and cat adoptions to veterans in our program.
“I was calling asking about a couple dogs and they mentioned Pets for Patriots.”
Brandon learned how our program works, applied, and was approved promptly. Still, he would not have imagined that a twice surrendered dog would be the newest addition to his growing family.
The search begins
Brandon was not having luck searching for a dog online. He convinced his wife to accompany him to the shelter just to “look around.” Meanwhile, he had another plan.
“I had every intention of getting a dog that day,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s just go look. We don’t have to get anything.'”
The couple followed instructions to browse the shelter’s onsite database of available dogs. The search left Brandon crestfallen. Most of the dogs needed care beyond the scope of what he and Monique could provide.
“Every single dog we clicked had a medical reason to be aware of,” he recalls.
Brandon appreciates that animals with special, medical needs deserve to be adopted, but recognizes that not every family is ready for that responsibility.
Twice surrendered dog steals a sailor’s heart
Godzilla was a large, young Staffordshire Terrier mix. His name was not promising and neither was his story.
The big dog was surrendered after his elderly guardian passed away from COVID. He was adopted subsequently and returned within a day – on two separate occasions and by two separate adopters.
Both complained that Godzilla was simply too energetic for them. Brandon was undeterred.
“He’s still a puppy so I can understand why that would be an issue,” he says.
Despite his monstrous name, Godzilla made a remarkable first impression. Shelter staff brought him from his kennel for a meet and greet with Brandon and his wife.
“He comes out,” Brandon recalls, “he’s all pretty and happy.”
The pair were charmed by the the twice surrendered dog’s joyful personality and decided to adopt him. With his new life came a new name – Koda – to help him leave his sad start to life in its wake.
Third time is the charm – eventually
Many adopters underestimate and are unprepared for the challenges of bringing home a new pet.
Dogs like Koda have had almost no stability in their lives. They often lack the discipline – and confidence – they need to adapt to their new surroundings.
“We had a pretty stressful day,” Brandon admits.
The young sailor realized that their home had no supplies for Koda and went straight to a pet store from the shelter. Koda was stressed, which only created angst for his new parents as well.
“I was nervous,” Brandon admits. “He didn’t know me, I didn’t know him.”
Once home Brandon let Koda jump on the couple’s bed, but Koda’s nerves got the best of him. He urinated all over, despite having previously been house trained.
Thankfully that episode was not repeated, but a more daunting challenge lie ahead. When Brandon left for work each day Koda would bark incessantly at Monique – and stop only once Brandon returned.
The couple considered bringing Koda back to the shelter, yet decided to redouble their commitment to him instead.
“After about two weeks, he chilled out, started sleeping in the bed with us here and there,” says Brandon.
Now the only time Koda barks is when he needs to go for a walk.
For the love of shelter dogs
The twice surrendered dog has relaxed considerably since his first few weeks home. And he has established different relationships with each of his human guardians.
Koda is more cuddlesome with Monique and always ready for an outdoor adventure with Brandon.
In fact, the sailor and his four-legged mate have settled into a comfortable cadence. This routine is lifesaving for Koda, who shed some extra pounds, and life-changing for Brandon, who is better able to manage his busy schedule.
Now the Navy veteran more easily juggles work, a midday trip to the dog park, wrestling practice, and time at home with his wife.
Lover of creatures great and small
By all accounts Koda is thriving. With the freedom to be himself he is now comfortable enough to share his silly side.
“He is just a very mellow, chill dog,” Brandon shares, adding, “He’s really goofy.”
In fact, the big dog has a whole repertoire of comical facial expressions. He is very people friendly, good with children, and loves other dogs as well. Brandon jokes that perhaps Koda loves people a little too much.
“I honestly think if I had an intruder he would show them where all of my stuff is to take.”
There is no doubt that Koda left his hard-luck life behind. He is now in a home that gives him all of the love, structure, and gentle discipline that he needs to reach his potential.
Koda even has a stash of nearly 30 toys and will pull every one of them out to find just the right one.
And then there is the car.
“Mostly any care ride I go on, he’s in there. He kind of knows our car,” Brandon shares. “If I’m walking him he will lead me over to the car.”
“…a blessing, for sure”
Brandon is grateful that he and Monique took a chance on a twice-surrendered dog whose original guardian passed away.
The young sailor is proud that they took the time to work through Koda’s early challenges. Their big pup is now a mostly well-mannered member of the family.
“He’s a blessing, for sure,” Brandon says, adding that he is glad to have rescued Koda through Pets for Patriots.
“I liked what it stands for. You’re giving a veteran the opportunity to enhance their life in some way and saving a dog’s life,” he says. “It’s helping two different lives come together and be happy together.”
Brandon encourages other veterans to adopt a companion pet. But he advises would-be adopters to be prepared for what it takes to welcome a rescue animal into their homes.
After all, adoption is a commitment to – and for – the life of that pet. In many ways it is an excellent primer for the new, little human life that Brandon and Monique will welcome into the world.
This life lesson is not lost on Brandon.
“Taking care of a life has changed everything.”