Three-strike dog makes home run with retired Navy veteran

Gail and Meli

Meli was a shelter dog with three strikes against her who scored a definite home run when she was adopted by a retired Navy veteran in Virginia. Gail and Meli

For her entire life Gail always had pets. Growing up in Fayetteville, New York it was “at least two dogs at all times,” yet it took four years from the death of her last dog in 2010 for the retired Navy veteran to feel ready to welcome another dog to her family.

Deployments and dogs and cats, oh my!

During her long career in the Navy, Gail “saw the world.” In addition to being stationed across the United States, including Hawaii, she deployed to such far-flung spots as Japan, Diego Garcia, Thailand and Oman, among the many other countries she saw either on vacation or on detachments. She recalls serving aboard some of the Navy’s most famous ships in the fleet, including the USS Enterprise, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Abraham Lincoln. Gail retired from the Navy after 26 years of service as an Aviation Electronics Technician Senior Petty Officer.

Throughout her long Naval career and seemingly no matter where she was stationed, Gail always found a way to save pets in need.

“At my first duty station in the Navy I adopted a stray dog in Spain,” she says, “and brought her back to the Unites States with me.”

During an assignment in Pensacola, Florida, another pet found her way into Gail’s loving embrace – a dog she adopted from a family who was moving and unable to take the dog along. A stray cat followed during a subsequent duty station in Tennessee, joined by a cat adopted from a Hawaii animal shelter, as well as a dog and two cats from an animal shelter in Maryland.

Sadly, Gail’s last dog died in 2010, and while she still had two cats in her family she “was always wanting another dog.”

A dog of her own

Finally in 2014, Gail made a decision that was life-changing for her and life-saving for an adult dog in a Virginia shelter.

“This year,” she declares, “it was finally time to get another dog.” Gail and Meil_2

Upon her first visit to the Virginia Beach SPCA, Gail learned about Pets for Patriots and the nationally-operating charity’s companion pet adoption program for military veterans. She thought it was a “very good program, for both the veteran and the animals.” She applied to Pets for Patriots before finalizing any adoption with the shelter so that she would be eligible for the charity’s benefits that help make pet parenthood affordable. In addition, the Virginia Beach SPCA extends a 10% adoption fee discount and access to their full-service, low-cost veterinary clinic for veterans and active duty service members who join Pets for Patriots.

While the financial benefits of adopting through Pets for Patriots were significant, Gail was inspired by the organization’s commitment to the most overlooked dogs and cats, including adult and special needs animals, and large breed dogs.

“This program fit my needs as I wanted a dog who was a little older and not in the puppy stage,” she explains. “I’ve also always believed in adopting animals instead of purchasing them.”

In truth, since losing her dog in 2010 Gail’s home was not entirely without dogs.

“Our friends always leave dogs with us whenever they are on vacation or away on military business,” she says, “so dogs are usually around, but I feel most complete when I have a dog of my own.”

Three strikes and…you’re in

Meli – then named Macie – was a homeless dog at the Virginia Beach SPCA with three challenges to finding her forever home: she was a large, black, adult dog. Many adopters shun black or dark-furred pets, prefer puppies or kittens, and overlook large dogs due to concerns about cost of care or restrictions on having large pets in their residence.

Gail saw only the positive in the sweet shelter dog.

“Meli is a very loving dog,” she observes, “who enjoys playing and just being around people.”

In May 2014 and against all odds Meli went home with her Navy veteran and started life anew.

Home run for Meli, the three-strike shelter dog

Gail enrolled her new charge in basic obedience training and found Meli to be a very smart – and quick – study. In no time she learned her basic skills and has blended in beautifully with her new family, including the cats. Since her adoption the big dog has shown a real zest for life, particularly for toys. Tennis balls and stuffed toys are her favorites.

“When given a new stuffed toy,” says Gail, “she will run around the house happily with it for a few minutes, throwing and chasing it and just being happy.” Meli

As the Navy veteran tells it, new toys do not stay that way for very long.

“She settles down to remove any ears, tails, arms,” says Gail. “Then she removes the squeaker and stuffing, but never eats any of that [and] keeps the now unrecognizable, stuffing-less toy to play with.”

Gail has a name for this collection of headless, tailless, armless toys: “her road kill.”

Now complete with Meli at her side, Gail advocates for the charity that helped bring this three-strikes shelter dog into her life, telling everyone she knows about it. But she has a simple yet important message for people who may want a companion pet, particularly those who might “shop, not adopt.”

“Animals in shelters need to be adopted.”

Are you or do you know a veteran who is ready for companion pet adoption?


  1. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, Gail. It makes me happy to see the pictures of you and Meli…I can just tell how happy you have made each other. I lost my sweet furbaby just a month ago to liver disease, and I still cry every day from missing her. I know that at some point, I will be ready for another companion, but I also know that I have to take the time to let my heart heal from the loss of Phoebe. She was my heart on 4 paws, and I will never forget her. Your story gives me hope that my healing WILL happen, in time. God Bless you and Meli, I wish you both a long and happy life together.

  2. Roberta Lumsdon

    I am a 77 yr old widow, who lives alone in a small apt in Cary, NC. I was very depressed when my MD told me to get a dog. I had always had a dog, growing up & after I was married. When my husband died, we had 2 dogs. However, I had just had major back surgery and was not able to care for them. I had them taken to the nearest veterinarian and then they found people who adopted them (a Boston Terrier & a Lassa apossa)

    Both were neutered males & both found happy furever homes. I was only able to walk with a four-wheeled walker. I am now able to ambulate with a cane.

  3. Roberta Lumsdon

    I am in a small 1 bedroom apt. & have 2 30# rescue dogs. 18 mos. old & 3 yrs old. Both are very helpful for my depression since losing my USAF retired husband in Jan. 2012. We don’t have a lot of room, but do have a lot of love & play to share.

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