Kelly did not plan to become an urban search and rescue specialist, nor expect to be divorced and alone. A shelter dog who was equally down on her luck was the key to saving them both.
For nearly six years Kelly served in the Army. She graduated basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, which she refers to as “relaxin’ Jackson.”
The installation trains nearly 60 percent of women entering the Army every year. After basic training Kelly was dispatched to her first duty station at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“I did some masonry work there,” she says, “but ultimately ended up on the Urban Search and Rescue, DCRF mission where I learned how to rescue people from disaster zones.”
The Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Response Force (DCRF) supports civil authorities in the case of a catastrophic event within the United States. It coordinates with a range of organizations for no-notice deployments to disaster zones.
Training to be part of this highly specialized rapid response force was one of the most memorable experiences for the young veteran.
“When we picked up the urban search and rescue mission we got to train in Ocala, Florida at a fire college,” Kelly recalls. “It was such an incredible experience. I had so much fun with my platoon learning how to rescue people from crazy situations.”
Fort Hood, Texas would be Kelly’s final duty station before she separated from service with an honorable discharge.
A long way from urban search and rescue
Kelly’s transition from service to civilian life is a work in progress.
After they separate, many veterans find the lives, routines, and even people they knew prior to service have all changed. It is common for these veterans to feel that they no longer fit in.
Still, Kelly is doing her best to build upon her training and adapt to her post-military life.
“I’ve lived in Aurora, Colorado for about a year now and am using my GI Bill to go back to school,” she says. “I am about halfway done with school and it has been an incredible experience so far.”
Programs like the GI Bill make it more affordable for veterans to attend college, graduate school, and training programs. So the urban search and rescue specialist decided to turn her lifesaving skills towards a new career helping animals.
“I am following my passion and now work at a veterinary clinic here, and absolutely love it!” Kelly exclaims. “I live with a roommate that goes to the same school as me. I’m lucky that I have family who lives pretty close to me here so I’m not really alone.”
However, the young veteran discovered that being in the company of others does not mean you cannot be lonely. Veterans often feel a sense of not belonging; some even experience a profound sense of isolation.
Even as Kelly worked to enhance her life a dark depression was just on the horizon.
Shelter dog to the rescue
Kelly did not plan to get a dog after separating from service because she already had one in her life. But that, too, had changed abruptly.
“My ex-husband decided to keep the dog we shared and didn’t really tell me til the last minute,” she says. “I needed to adopt a dog because I needed that companionship. I was going through a lot at that time. I just got divorced, I moved out of his house to my dad’s, then moved to Colorado where I really knew no one but my family. On top of that I started school, which was really stressful for me.”
Companion pets bring emotional comfort and support by their mere presence. Dogs and cats can be particularly therapeutic to veterans who must navigate circumstances that most civilians will never experience.
Kelly saw pet adoption as the cure for what ailed her.
“I needed the support and love that came with a dog,” she says.
“It was time to find my other half”
The young veteran put her urban search and rescue skills to the test. She was on a mission to find – and save – the right companion.
“I was looking around everywhere and applying to all sorts of places and fosters, but no one got back to me,” she says.
During the course of her wide-ranging search Kelly came across Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans. Our mission to make pet guardianship affordable and our 10-year track record of success resonated with her.
“I really wasn’t looking for it, honestly,” she shares. “It’s kind of fate. I really liked what they had to say and offer and thought, why not. I really liked their vision and the impact they have made. So I decided to give it a try and before I knew it, I was eligible.”
Pets for Patriots accepts applications online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our team reviews supporting documentation during weekday business hours. Kelly applied and within two days was approved.
“It was time to find my other half,” she says.
And just four days later the Army urban search and rescue veteran did just that.
Search of a lifetime
Adams County Animal Shelter joined our free adoption partner program in 2011. Like most municipal shelters, the organization is responsible for animal control, licensing, and other valuable functions in their community.
Kelly visited the shelter to find a dog who met one of our program criteria. We focus on the most overlooked homeless animals and inspire veterans to adopt them.
A friend accompanied Kelly with the hopes that she would make a connection with one of the many available dogs.
The last run
Viola was a stunning, if too thin, ebony-coated dog. She appeared to be shut down and avoided all human contact.
“I met her at the shelter in the first row to the right. The last run,” Kelly recalls. “We saw her sitting in her kennel with her back to the door. She was so sad and quiet. She just wanted to be touched and loved on. I knew it then that she was it.”
The two year-old pup had been in the Adams County Animal Shelter for nearly three weeks. She entered the shelter with vomiting and diarrhea, and had lost a considerable amount of weight.
“She was so skinny when I met her outside in the meeting room,” Kelly says. “Skinny, scared, but open to the possibility of me. I had to take her home.”
And so it was that the urban search and rescue expert saved her new canine companion. But Kelly would learn that the saving – and healing – happens at both ends of the leash.
Right as rain
Kelly was excited to start a new chapter in her life with her new best friend. So it was only fitting that Viola would get a new name: Rain. Just as rain nourishes the plants and trees, this four-legged Rain nourishes Kelly’s spirit.
The Army veteran is grateful to have adopted such a wonderful companion.
“Since then, she has changed my life for the better,” she shares. “She gets me outside, lifts me up when I’m down, greets me when I come home with howls and awoos. She is incredible. I was depressed, she was depressed, but we got each other out of it together.”
Those ‘awoos’ – howling-like sounds – are one of the things Kelly loves most about her new best friend.
“I don’t know why she does it,” she says, “but when I come home, when we go up the stairs, back from walks, she always howls and it’s the funniest thing.”
Rain has taken to Kelly’s active lifestyle, as well. The pair go hiking together often. Rain is well-mannered on their walks and loves riding in the back seat of Kelly’s car.
One ongoing challenge, however, is Rain’s prey drive. On walks she does not pull towards people or other dogs, but small critters are a different matter.
“Squirrels and rabbits don’t stand a chance,” Kelly says.
At home Rain eyes a different kind of prey. She stalks it like a canine ninja.
“Best of all is her chicken thieving skills are unmatched,” Kelly shares. “I remind my roommates all the time not to leave chicken out. You won’t hear her at all. She will get to it no matter where you put it. It’s so crazy!”
Love saves lives
It is gratifying to have helped a search and rescue expert in her own search for a new best friend. Kelly appreciates how we made the entire adoption, application, and follow up processes so easy.
“They have been absolutely amazing with keeping in touch and making sure everything goes smoothly for you and your companion. It really is a great program in helping vets adopt and get settled with their new companions,” she says.
Kelly is moving forward with life with depression behind her. And Rain is no longer a scared, skinny, sad dog waiting for her hero. Both person and pet are giving, and getting, the unconditional love and acceptance they need.
And the Army veteran is simply smitten with her four-legged savior.
“Overall,” she says, “she is absolutely wonderful.”