Harlie was a fearful rescue dog in the care of a San Diego animal shelter. A young military family that adopted her would be forever changed in the brief time they shared.
“…an exemplary sailor”
Christina is immensely proud of her husband, Kevan. His brother served in the Marines and he felt called to join the Navy. But Kevan’s initial attempts to enlist were denied due to a congenital heart defect that was corrected shortly after his birth.
Not one to give up easily, Kevan persevered. And at age 27 he enlisted in the United States Navy.
“Bootcamp at 27 was daunting,” Christina shares. “He ended up sustaining stress fractures of his shins due to his rigorous physical activities and unwillingness to quit.”
Kevan battled on despite an opportunity to “just go home.” He would be the oldest person in his graduating unit.
After bootcamp Kevan went to accession training, known as A school, where he trained as an electronics technician.
These professionals are tasked with the maintenance, calibration, and operation of a wide range of electronic systems, including radar, computer, cryptography, and communications.
Kevan was deployed for two years overseas aboard the USS Mt Whitney, a Blue Ridge-class amphibious vessel and the command ship of the United States Sixth Fleet. Upon his return Kevan was stationed in San Diego. While there he served as a Naval recruiter for four years and, during this time, met and married Christina.
“My husband is an exemplary sailor,” she says. “He is our hero.”
Choosing to adopt, not shop
Companion pets help military veterans and families in many ways.
So in May 2018 Kevan applied to Pets for Patriots to find a pet who would be a good fit for his growing family. He and Christina were committed to adoption.
“We choose to adopt because we wanted to give an animal a chance at a better life,” he explains, “and there are always animals who need homes.”
To Kevan, our program is an example of the many benefits available to those who serve our nation.
The Navy veteran appreciates that our shelter partners across San Diego county offer deeply discounted adoption fees – some waived altogether – and that our team follows up before, during, and after adoption.
But the sailor did not expect that a dog who was terrified of her own shadow would be just what he and his family needed.
The sailor and the fearful rescue dog
Harlie was a stunning, barely year-old German Shepherd in the care of our partners County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. Since 2011 we have made more than 120 adoptions through this collaboration.
Kevan and Christina visited the County’s Bonita shelter location and were struck immediately by Harlie’s beauty. She had the classic black and tan markings of her breed, and huge soulful eyes.
But Harlie was extremely skittish and fearful. Her body language was that of a troubled pup who trusted no one.
It is believed that Harlie had been neglected prior to entering the shelter. The damage was so profound that the big dog never truly recovered through the course of her young life.
Still, Kevan was inspired to give this fearful rescue dog the love she deserved. Two weeks after being approved into our program he and Christina welcomed Harlie home.
“Harlie changed our family forever”
Adoption involves a series of adjustments, compromises, and changes for both people and pets. Too many adopters expect that a new dog or cat will become a well mannered member of their households – in an instant.
While adoption is undoubtedly an improvement in a shelter animal’s life, it takes time for them to feel confident with their new family and surroundings.
Kevan had no expectations that Harlie would adjust quickly, given her timidity and prior neglect. Fortunately the Navy veteran knows a few things about perseverance. He was not going to give up on his four-legged charge.
“Harlie changed our family forever,” he says. “She was neglected as a pup and was an anxious, fearful, beautiful German Shepherd. She did not come into our house for the first three days we had her.”
During those early days Christina would go out into the yard with ice cubes to make sure that Harlie did not dehydrate – and to give her love. Her efforts were rewarded when the fearful rescue dog finally came indoors.
However, Harlie was still leery of Kevan, possibly due to her previous treatment. The Navy veteran was patient and had an open heart towards his very frightened young dog.
“She finally came around and learned that she could trust us,” he shares, “This took about a year. She cowered and anxiously paced at the slightest movement. She cried when we pet her, and was especially anxious about her front paws and neck being touched.”
Life lessons from “the Harlie dog”
Although Harlie never overcame her profound anxiety she found ways to cope with unfamiliar people, places, or things. And she was devoted fiercely to her family. It is these qualities that Kevan adored most of all.
“What we loved most about the Harlie dog was her resiliency and enduring spirit. Even if she was scared of a box out of place or of new people at her house,” he says.
“She cautiously observed and patrolled the property. She would fend off coyotes when they came around to nab the chickens. She was gentle with the children and other animals.”
In early 2021 Harlie started to show signs of rapid physical decline.
A spinal lesion was causing various behavioral and physical symptoms. At first, Harlie soldiered on.
The skittish dog had battled demons all of her young life, but this would not be a battle she would win.
A love story
By February Harlie was struggling, unable to walk to her food or water dish on her own. The couple knew it was time and made the decision to let their fearful rescue dog be at peace.
“She was a great dog,” Kevan says. “Over the years there [were] clear improvements in her social abilities and her anxiety. Though she was not a normal dog she was a good one. This we think was the best for her. She can finally rest after always being on high alert.”
The couple never regretted their decision to adopt Harlie in the first place. She was special in ways that were more challenging at times, but that made having her in their family more rewarding as well.
“She was a good girl, and knowing what we know now, my wife and I agreed we would choose her over again if we could. She brought us more joy, understanding, and love than we could have ever imagined.”
“…she gave our family her whole heart”
Upon learning of Harlie’s passing we sent the family a handwritten condolence card with the Rainbow Bridge poem. It was this simple act of compassion that inspired Christina to share Harlie’s tale.
“She was deeply touched by this gesture,” Kevan says. “Pets for Patriots is an amazing organization that actually cares about you and your pet.”
The Navy veteran hopes that Harlie’s adoption inspires other people to give hard luck pets a second chance.
Dogs and cats enter shelters through no faults of their own. Many are victims of neglect, abandonment or abuse. Still others were never given the time they needed to adjust to their new lives or were never trained by their new guardians.
And not all shelter animals are as lucky as Harlie. She found people who did not see her anxiety and quirks as liabilities. They accepted Harlie for who she was, just as she did them.
“I know this seems like a tragic story, but our Harlie dog, for all of the trials and work and time she needed, was the most loyal loving and gentle companion. Even with her rough start in life, she persevered she gave our family her whole heart and incredible spirit,” he says. “This gift cannot be measured.”