Senior pets are the least likely to be adopted from animal shelters. One repeatedly surrendered old dog finally landed a forever home when he met a veteran who, like him, suffered with severe anxiety.
Touring the DMZ
Bernadette enlisted in the Navy in 2011. Her first command was aboard the CVN 71 Roosevelt, which was dry docked at the time. She was assigned to work in the armory until the time came to choose her next rating.
The young veteran chose aviation survival equipmentman, known as parachute riggers or PRs. These professionals are responsible for the function and integrity of all lifesaving equipment that pilots and other crew need in emergency situations.
After her training Bernadette was attached to the HM-14 helicopter mine countermeasures squadron, nicknamed the world famous Vanguard. In time she would deploy to Japan and Korea, however, it was her deployment to Korea that would prove most memorable.
“I got to experience the culture and meet some amazing people,” she recalls. “We got to tour the DMZ, and that was really cool to see.”
The Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is a buffer zone established in 1953 separating South Korea and North Korea. It remains one of the most tense international borders to this day.
In 2016 Bernadette separated from service with an honorable discharge and rejoined civilian life. In time that would include a repeatedly surrendered old dog who struggled to find his place in the world.
For the love of shelter pets
Bernadette has always had a soft spot for animals.
“I used to work for an animal hospital,” she says, “but I found a career that I love.”
The Navy veteran settled in Arizona, where she works for a Pets for Patriots shelter partner.
“I work for HALO Animal Rescue in Phoenix, Arizona,” she shares.
“I transport animals to and from their vet appointments, to collecting animals across the border with another rescue that we work with.”
Since 2015, HALO Animal Rescue has partnered with Pets for Patriots to help dogs and cats in their care find loving military homes. Various discounts are offered to veterans in our program to inspire the adoption of those animals most overlooked by adopters.
However, before Bernadette ever worked for the shelter she heard about a repeatedly surrendered old dog who needed a special home.
“My wife worked at HALO before I started and she told me about this eight year-old dog that had been returned three times due to his anxiety,” she recalls. “I decided to go and see him because I, too, have major anxiety.”
HALO staff told the Navy veteran about Pets for Patriots and encouraged her to apply. She decided “to give it a try” in order to help get her set up for success with the many benefits we provide.
It was autumn of 2020 and Ghost was an aptly named dog in HALO’s care. The routinely surrendered old dog never made a positive, enduring impression on his previous families. He was adopted – and returned – three times.
Too many adopters are unwilling to devote the time, patience, training, and love for a pet who had a rough start to his life. But the rewards of helping a dog or cat reach his potential are priceless.
Ghost may have had numerous adoption opportunities, but it seems that no one ever gave him a real chance. Then Bernadette sailed into his life.
“As soon as this old man came in the room he ran straight up to me, sat on my foot – tail wagging – and gave me this smile. He was glued to my side like we were best friends since birth,” she says. “I couldn’t leave this dapper old man. He just needed training and an outlet for the anxiety.”
“…he is a totally different dog”
In the two years since their adoption, Bernadette and Aten – as Ghost is now known – are both transformed for the better.
Aten has shed the overwhelming anxiety that prompted no less than three previous adopters to give him back to the shelter. Bernadette has found her port in the storm and lives a less stressed, less anxious life as well.
“Since adopting him we have been on so many hikes and nature walks, he has even been to the Grand Canyon,” she shares.
“His anxiety has gone down so much, he is a totally different dog.”
The oft surrendered old dog has proven equally comfortable with four-legged siblings. He loves to cuddle with the family’s three cats and enjoyed “a puppy brother” who lived with them briefly as well.
Now that Aten is less anxious and more confident he enjoys exploring the world at large. The mature dog’s newfound sense of adventure is the perfect complement to Bernadette’s household and lifestyle.
“We love to go on hikes [and] there are so many trails that we are able to go on. But his favorite place to travel to is Sedona,” she shares. “There we take him to the creek, where he likes to get his paws wet and look for a stick.”
Something about Aten
It is bittersweet that Aten found his perfect person so late in life. But had he not met Bernadette that fateful fall day in 2020, the old dog’s story would likely have a distinctly different end.
Perhaps it was Bernadette’s own very personal experiences with anxiety that allowed her to bond so instantly to Aten. She did all the things for him that she needed for herself: built his confidence, let him know she accepted him, opened his world to explore.
And in turn, the thrice surrendered old dog helped his veteran overcome her own angst.
Bernadette has built a life around helping the most vulnerable dogs in need, but there is something about Aten that set him apart.
“I have never loved a dog before like him.”