Train derailment leads to adoption of one very unwanted dog

Buck was a homeless dog who nobody seemed to want, repeatedly adopted and then surrendered to a Tennessee shelter over the course of his relatively short life. As unlikely as it sounds, a train derailment set off a chain of events that led to his final adoption despite his foster family having no intention to keep him.

Early in July, 2015, a train carrying toxic cargo derailed in Eastern Tennessee, forcing the evacuation of more than 5,000 people in the surrounding area. Blount County Animal Center was in the impact zone, and asked its volunteers to foster the dogs in their care until it was safe for them to be returned to the shelter.

Scott is an Air Force veteran living in the area; he and his wife wanted to help. The couple were both in agreement that they would provide temporary respite to one of the shelter’s dogs. Neither was ready to adopt a pet, and they devised a seemingly simple plan to make sure they did not become “foster failures.”

“My wife took up the call and brought Buck home to us,” he explains. “He is a Boxer mix and the reason she chose him was because I really don’t like Boxers all that much, and we would be less willing to keep him.”

Love conquers all

Buck immediately proved himself to be “an extremely loving dog” without “a mean bone in his body.” Despite the big dog’s obvious charm, Scott and his wife were resolute in their decision: when the cleanup was complete, Buck was going back to the shelter. Yet Buck’s loving ways captured the couple’s curiosity, and they found themselves wanting to know more about their accidental house guest. Scott and Buck_square

“After the third of fourth day of having him my wife asked about his story and why he was at the shelter,” Scott recalls. “Come to find out he was brought to the shelter three times over the course of his two short years on this planet. He has spent most of his life in a crate at someone’s house or in the shelter kennel.”

Upon learning of Buck’s hard luck life, Scott and his wife had a change of heart.

“We decided that he wouldn’t go back and we would try to give him the home he deserves,” Scott says.

For the love of country and aircraft

In 1989, Scott joined the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, a job he describes as nothing short of a dream.

“I loved working on the aircraft,” he muses. “I had to be removed from the flight line every day. My chief thought I was a nut for not leaving when my day was up.”

During the course of Scott’s enlistment there were tremendous cuts to military spending that impacted all branches of service. With a heavy heart, he decided it was time to leave.

“I wasn’t happy,” he recalls, “but what are you going to do? It hurt when I left. I out-processed and that was that. I was no longer part of the Air Force, but I did get over it.”

Although Scott ended his Air Force career sooner than he planned when he enlisted, he found his military experience to be an asset in the civilian world.

“Being in the United States Air Force helped jump start my career,” he says. “Employers were willing to give me a second look based [up]on my service.”

Hard luck dog helps veteran through stressful time

Once Scott and his wife decided to keep Buck after all, they learned about Pets for Patriots and our partnership with the Blount County Animal Center to help the most overlooked companion animals find permanent homes with military veterans. The shelter waives pet adoption fees for our members, and we provide a range of benefits to help make pet parenthood more affordable.

Scott loved the idea and decided to apply.

“I filled out the paperwork with Pets For Patriots, submitted my DD214 and he was ours,” he says. “Very easy process.”

Buck is relishing his new status as a much beloved family dog. The Boxer mix has even endeared himself to the couple’s youngest daughter Caroline who, at 17, “never had an attachment to an animal before.” The big dog now sleeps in her bed.

“When she is home he followers her everywhere she goes,” Scott says. “Buck is just as loving with my wife and I. She calls him her little boy even though he is 65 pounds. He is very gentle with all the family.”

Recently Scott fell on hard times, having lost his job. Buck has proven himself to not only be an always there friend, but helps alleviate the anxiety his veteran is experiencing.

“We spend the whole day together,” Scott says. “He lays around watching me do auto maintenance and chores around the house. I am glad to have him through this stressful time in my life. He makes me happy and makes me laugh.”

“…a running fool”

One of Scott’s greatest pleasures is watching Buck embrace his newfound freedom. He often takes him to a nearby 42-acre farm, where the once unwanted dog just loves to run.(Scott) Buck_square

“I love watching Buck run,” Scott says. “He is so fast. I think he runs because he was never able to. Squirrels and rabbits fear him, and kids love him.”

It is clear that Buck has found a special place in this veteran’s heart, and that each member of his new family finds him endearing in their own way.

“That dog is a running fool,” Scott marvels, adding, “My daughter and wife think he is the bees’ knees.”

Although Scott never intended to adopt a dog, he is acutely aware of the commitment he made to Buck in doing so: that he would have a home for the rest of his life. The Air Force veteran encourages other veterans to consider pet adoption and, if possible, to spend time with the dog or cat they intend to adopt.

“Make sure that dog is the one you plan on spending 15 or so years with,” he says. “I knew Buck was the one, but some might not be sure.”

Scott reflects on Buck’s life before he saved him – routinely adopted and returned to the shelter – and believes it has an emotional impact that potential adopters need to consider before they bring home a new companion.

“It hurts the dog more than you will ever know,” he says. “They just don’t understand.”

For one oft-surrendered dog, his days of homelessness and of life in a crate are over. And for this one Air Force veteran, he found a loyal, loving friend at a time in his life when he needed one most.

“I am very happy with Buck,” Scott says. “He is my bud.”


  1. John A. Smaldone

    This was a great story. Sounds like 30 acres is just what Buck needed. Scott, thank you for your service, I am an Air Force veteran myself

    I wish you, your family and Buck only the best in life. I can also tell you that Beth Zimmerman is a great gal with a big, big heart!

    God speed to you all,

    John Smaldone



  3. Zee Johnston

    We, Blount County Animal Shelter, where so fortunate to have people like Scott and his family Foster so many of our animals so we in turn could help approximately 80 animals displaced by the train derailment, but Buck was one of the most fortunate, he found that special home he needed. Thank you Scott for your service, and for giving our Buck his furever home!

  4. Mary Ohlfs

    We got our Sam I Am through pets for patriots 3 years ago. That crazy jack Russel we brought has slowed down a bit but still crazy. What an awesome story for an awesome animal and family. May you have many more years together.

    • Beth Zimmerman

      Mary, we know how much Sam I Am means to you, and meant to Kenneth – who we remember fondly as a member of our Pets for Patriots family. Hugs!!

  5. Becky Richards

    I became familiar with Pets for Patriots through a humane society newsletter. After reading about the group, I wanted to donate and stay involved through its newsletter. It’s an amazing group!

    • Beth Zimmerman

      Thank you for your kind words and generosity, Becky!

  6. Jane Hill

    Wow ! What a beautiful story ! Thank you for your great service to our country! ! My ex/ husband was in the air force and was also an airplane mechanic. He is a viet nam era vet, Your family is wonderful and how great that you and your wife adopted Buck ! I am so happy for him ! Animals do have feelings just as we do ! I love dogs and I have three ! Most people don’t realize that animals do have feelings !

    You snd your wife have done a great thing by establishing Blount County Animal Center for vets ! Thank you, thank you for your generous contribution to the animal world !? ❤️

  7. Ron Anglin

    As an Air Force Vet ( Med Evac) myself this was a moving story! I adopted two cats due to my disabilities not being aware of the adoptions available for veterans.

    • Beth Zimmerman

      Thank you for your service Ron, and for sharing how your kitties help you heal.

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