After losing two of her three beloved dogs within a month Tabitha knew that she would adopt again. But the Army veteran did not expect a twice surrendered dog who was slated for death to fill that aching void.
“…one tooth at a time”
Tabitha enlisted in the Army Reserve while she was in college. After 12 years of service she transitioned to the National Guard. She would serve for another 10 years before retiring in 2021.
“I was a dental NCO,” she says, “saving soldiers one tooth at a time.”
The Army Dental Corps is one of six within the Army Medical Command. Each of the corps is dedicated to a specific area of medicine, such as dentistry, nursing, or veterinary care.
Tabitha had many memorable experiences during her 21 year military career. However, the most enduring was an assignment just two days before the September 11th terror attacks.
“My first annual training was to Germany on September 9, 2001 and I had no clue what to expect,” she recalls. “Well, two days later our lives changed forever and I was terrified about what I got myself into – experiencing that on an active base and in another country.”
Even overseas the fear and uncertainty were palpable. Yet in the midst of the post-9/11 chaos Tabitha was able to enjoy a very brief respite.
“The world shut down for those next few weeks,” she says, “but I managed to catch a ride with a random Air Force girl to a base two hours away to visit my high school friend. She was shocked to see me show up at her barracks, especially since just calling on the cell wasn’t really a thing then.”
Loved and lost
Since separating from service Tabitha transitioned to civilian life, working from home as a wealth management advisor. She enjoys hiking, yoga, concerts, and beach travel, and includes her dogs whenever possible.
But tragedy struck in the spring of 2023. Two of the Army veteran’s three Pit Bull dogs passed away in quick succession. Both were seniors – eight and nine years old, respectively – yet their deaths were still a shock.
“Me and my remaining girl were both extremely sad by the sudden and unexpected losses,” she shares, “going from a three-dog family to one.”
To help ease the grief Tabitha started to foster dogs in her home. She noticed that Sadie – her remaining Pittie – perked up with a canine companion, but barked constantly when alone.
It did not take long for the Army veteran to realize that Sadie was hurting – and so was she.
“When another dog is in the house she just sleeps peacefully. We both needed to fill that void.”
Little did Tabitha know that a twice surrendered, death row dog would become the next member of her family.
Adopt don’t shop
Tabitha is a fierce advocate for companion pet adoption. Her actions and experiences bear witness that animals who have been surrendered, abandoned, or abused are worthy of saving.
“I knew my next dog would be from a shelter or rescue,” she shares, “and I have a soft spot for the scared underdogs, particularly Pit Bulls.”
The municipal shelter has partnered with us since 2010 and offers our veterans reduced adoption fees of $50 for dogs and $15 for cats. As an open intake facility it is sometimes faced with the grim task of euthanizing animals for space.
To be clear: no shelter wants to kill animals in their care.
However, if capacity exceeds the safe and legal limit established in their state or municipality these shelters have little choice.
More people need to step up to foster or adopt, assist in transport to shelters that have spare capacity, and fix their pets before they have the chance to birth litters.
And needless, vanity breeding and puppy mills both must come to an end.
Upon learning about our program at the city shelter Tabitha discovered that there were other participating shelters in her community as well. She decided to pay a visit to Prairie Paws Adoption Center despite not seeing any pets on their website who caught her attention.
“I was ready to save him for good”
Tabitha’s impromptu visit just before the shelter closed for the evening proved unexpectedly fruitful.
The Army veteran took notice of a then four year-old Neapolitan Mastiff mix named Pez. The dog was big, but underweight. To Tabitha, he looked “sad, defeated, and shut down.” She wanted to give him a moment’s comfort.
“I asked if I could just go in and pet him,” she recalls. “[I was] not really interested since he was a Mastiff and not my Pit Bull type.”
Shelter staff told Tabitha that Pez was slated for euthanasia that night, but in a last minute miracle another family offered to foster him. The giant dog was already twice surrendered; he needed every chance he could get.
“He looked like he was ready to give up,” Tabitha recalls. “Although that family saved him that night, I was ready to save him for good.”
So just two weeks after Tabitha was approved into our program she gave Pez, since renamed Cooper, a final and enduring reprieve.
Pets are a privilege
Tabitha is grateful for the benefits of our program that ease the financial costs associated with having a pet.
For instance, Prairie Paws offers veterans we serve 50 percent off adoption fees when they save eligible dogs and cats. This fee reduction is additional to benefits we provide each adopter.
Tabitha put our gift card benefit to immediate use for Cooper.
“He qualified for your program so this was a win-win,” Tabitha says, “and with how tall he was, the Chewy gift card was a tremendous help to get a kennel large enough for him and the high protein food he needed to help put on some weight.”
Although Tabitha may have ultimately decided to adopt Cooper without our support, she values the benefits we offer and recommends other veterans learn how our program works.
“The criteria matches some of the dogs that need that extra attention and often get overlooked. Also bringing a new pet home is an investment and times are tough financially for people,” she says.
“Having a pet is a privilege and comes with a lot of financial responsibility, so I always appreciate any programs that can help make pet ownership more affordable.”
Learning to trust
Nothing is known about why Cooper is a twice surrendered dog. But it appears that he had little training and little exposure to the outdoors in his previous homes.
Tabitha was undaunted. The retired Army veteran brought to bear just the right mix of grit, patience, and love. She updated us on their progress during one of our early post-adoption follow ups.
“Learning the basic ‘sit’ command is still a task,” she shares, “but we’re taking it slow and in time he’ll keep learning, relaxing, and trusting his new life.”
Part of Cooper’s training is overcoming his fears leaving the house. Tabitha uses a little buried treasure to teach him that being outdoors is not so scary.
“He seems a little anxious being outside and [is] always trying to come right back in, but is getting the hang of the doggie door and realizing chicken breast is hiding in the yard for him to find. Regular treats weren’t cutting it,” she adds, “so [I] had to go for higher reward treats.”
Most dogs enjoy the company of their people. However, some take that desire for constant contact too far – often an early sign of separation anxiety. They are called ‘Velcro dogs’ for their insatiable need to stick by their humans’ sides.
Unsurprisingly, the former death row dog stays ever so close to Tabitha.
“Cooper is a stage five clinger,” she says. “I thought Pitties were Velcro dogs, but they have nothing on a Mastiff.”
Despite his insecurities and rough start in life Cooper has a tremendous heart. He dotes on Tabitha and his dog sister, Sadie, and loves to play.
“…the ‘Cooper alarm'”
Still, not all of Cooper’s habits are so endearing.
“He drools like crazy the minute you show him food or when walking away from the water bowl, so he keeps me on my toes always cleaning the floors around here,” Tabitha jokes. “He really reminds me of the younger version of my Max and has the same amber eyes. I feel like Max sent me Cooper to fill that void in [my] and Sadie’s heart.”
With each passing day of his new life Cooper’s personality is emerging.
Tabitha describes the twice surrendered dog as equally sweet and silly, particularly in the morning and at bedtime.
But with routine comes those times when it is understandable to wish that our pets were not so attached to them.
“I don’t love that he thinks he needs to be my alarm clock on days it’s not set,” Tabitha jokes.
“I know he means well, and he learned fast to use the doggie door and let himself out when I ignore the ‘Cooper alarm.'”
The big dog who escaped death row is learning what it is like to be part of a loving household. In return he has brought affection and companionship not only to Sadie, but to Tabitha as well.
Finally – after two failed adoptions – Cooper landed well. He is home, and Tabitha is devoted to his success even as he remains a work in progress.
“Cooper is scared of the outside world since it hasn’t been kind to him, being a stray in the shelter two times already,” she says. “I look forward to helping him gain confidence, realizing he is safe and found his forever home.”