An abused and abandoned dog left for dead gets a new chance at life – and gives a retired Army veteran a renewed sense of purpose.
Bet on it
Kendra’s journey into the military was an unlikely one. While accompanying her boyfriend to an Army recruiter’s office, the recruiter made a provocative remark that women are too weak for the military.
Until that moment Kendra had never considered enlisting.
“I am scared to death of guns,” she explains.
But something about the officer’s words upset her enough to prove him wrong.
“Three days later I was telling him, ‘sign me up,’” she says.
Kendra wanted to make a point, but soon realized joining the military made sense. Through the GI Bill, college was suddenly a possibility and not just a dream.
“At the time I was thinking of going into accounting,” she shares. “I knew there was no other way I would be able to afford college.”
Suddenly, Kendra had a new sense of purpose.
Rising to the challenge
Kendra embraced the challenges of bootcamp. The discipline, rigorous physical training, and opportunity to learn new skills buttressed her self-esteem.
The young soldier started out in the Army Reserve, but upon return from basic training asked to be activated. She briefly worked as a data analyst before training for a role in the military police, or MP.
In time, however, Kendra realized that she did not have the temperament to excel as an MP, preferring investigative work instead.
So in 1992 Kendra made another pivot and joined the Army National Guard, describing it as the “best of both worlds.” She was able to stay in Washington state and give her children stability during their formative years.
While in the National Guard Kendra worked briefly as a traffic accident investigator before taking a role in data analysis.
This military occupational specialty involved a lot investigative work and making sense of complex data.
Puzzles and promotions
Once again Kendra felt a renewed sense of purpose. In this new role she resolved pay problems and helped fellow soldiers with their paperwork, among other sometimes mundane yet important duties.
On one occasion Kendra helped a service member who did not realize that he had enough promotion points to advance in rank.
“I helped a sergeant go from E5 to E8,” she recalls with pride.
In another instance a guardsman was paid an excessive enlistment bonus by mistake.
Kendra discovered that funds were being deducted from his wages to claw back the money. Through diligent investigation she was able to find the guardsman another position that offered higher pay. As a result, the soldier paid off the debt in a matter of months – with money to spare.
“He couldn’t have been happier,” she says. “I love solving puzzles and helping people out like that.”
The Army veteran has fond memories of helping countless others during her long military career.
In 2013 Kendra retired as a staff sergeant after 24 years of service. She is rightfully proud of all she was able to accomplish during her time in the Army.
Above all, Kendra was able to fulfill her dream of graduating from college. Within three years of separating from service she earned a masters degree in organizational leadership.
Someone to love
Retirement, however, ushered in other challenges.
Kendra’s children were grown and out of the house. Then her best friend passed away. So Kendra and another friend decided to move to Vancouver to start life anew.
But relocating did not help the former soldier escape her grief and loneliness. Nor did it resolve the debilitating emotional trauma she experienced during her military service. Still, Kendra tried to work away the pain.
Once in Vancouver Kendra worked as an administrative manager for a 24-hour veterinary hospital. Soon after, however, her mother’s dementia got worse and Kendra moved back to Seattle to care for her.
“That was a full-time job,” she says. “By the time I was done with that, my disability and everything else had gotten so bad I wasn’t able to work anymore.”
For years Kendra had been coping with depression, anxiety attacks, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from her military service. But she was running out of room – and time – to run away from her problems.
On the road again
Kendra knew that her life needed to change. So the Army veteran packed up once more and moved to Kansas City, where she now lives close to other members of her family.
Still, Kendra felt alone. A few days after she arrived in Kansas City she began searching for a four-legged companion.
“I did not have my kids or my mom,” she explains. “Nobody to take care of.”
Kendra visited nearby KC Center for Animal Care in Kansas City in August 2022.
The shelter – along with KC Animal Project campuses in Zona Rosa and Overland Park – offers a 30 percent discount to veterans in our program who adopt eligible dogs and cats.
Kendra was impressed.
“I’ve seen many around the nation,” she says of the shelter, “but this is the only one that I’ve seen that has individual play yards to meet dogs and a special area for the meet and greet for other dogs in the family.”
“My heart broke”
Kendra browsed nearly every dog in the shelter, but none felt like the right fit. Then she saw a dog who looked as though her spirit had been crushed.
“My heart broke when I saw her,” the Army veteran says. “She was 24 pounds and totally emaciated.”
Patina was five years old. She had been found in an abandoned apartment, locked in a kennel without food or water.
Ten days passed before someone discovered the helpless dog. She was severely underweight, and covered in her own urine and feces. The trauma she experienced was painfully visible.
“Every rib was showing.”
Kendra empathized with Patina’s vulnerability. She, too, was someone struggling to keep the darkness at bay.
“She was abused, neglected, and abandoned,” Kendra recalls, “to the point most would never regain hope.”
Nursing Patina back to health would require work. Even their first meeting at the shelter took time.
“She came up to me very, very slowly,” she says. “I spent around 20 minutes trying to pet her.”
It was nearly impossible for Kendra to get a sense of Patina’s true personality; the dog was totally shut down.
However, Kendra took a chance. Shelter staff told her about our partnership to help military veterans adopt pets for companionship and emotional support. Kendra needed both.
The Army veteran applied that very day and was approved the following morning.
“Everything was so simple and easy,” she says. “It was awesome.”
Kendra brought Patina home later that week and renamed her Ariella. Upon arriving home the traumatized dog curled up in a blanket to comfort herself.
“We both needed someone to love and be loved unconditionally in return.”
A new sense of purpose was dawning for the retired Army veteran.
Hope and a home
Above all, Kendra is a problem-solver. She laid out some goals for Ariella – whom she calls Ari – from the start.
“The first thing I had to do was make her feel safe, then I had to give her some hope,” she explains. “I don’t think she had any hope.”
Once Ariella felt secure would come housetraining, weight gain, and learning how to play.
Ariella proved to be a quick learner. She housetrained quickly, steadily put on weight, and developed a sense of confidence after enduring unthinkable trauma.
“I wasn’t even expecting it,” says Kendra. “She went through eighteen pounds of dog food in the first ten days.”
New day, new dog
Since her adoption Ariella has gained more than 26 pounds and is at a healthy weight. She has not only changed on the outside, but on the inside as well.
“I feel like I have been watching my kid grow up,” Kendra says. “She is no longer scared or timid, and she does not hide all the time. It is really nice to have seen her blossom like this.”
After three months with Kendra, Ariella finally started to wag her tail. Now she is notorious for thumping it uncontrollably against the walls of their home. And her zest for life is hard to contain. She loves playing tug of war and never tires of her squeaky toys.
“I have to get one that’s harder for her to squeak,” Kendra jokes. “I don’t want it to drive anyone out of their minds.”
Healing at both ends of the leash
Ariella’s transformation is a testament to Kendra’s dedication and patience.
“She now has complete trust in me and isn’t afraid to get in my space to demand attention,” she shares.
However, the trauma inflicted upon Ariella exacted a heavy toll. She often wakes up in the middle of the night with nightmares.
“I definitely know what that’s like,” Kendra confides. “I go through it myself.”
Rather than seeing Ariella’s troubles as a burden, the Army veteran sees them as an opportunity for mutual healing.
“Helping her through all her fears and insecurities has helped me with mine,” she says. “I’m not alone in this anymore and she doesn’t judge like people can.”
Kendra has noticed profound changes in her own health since adopting Ariella. She is more physically active, sleeps more soundly, and her blood pressure has gone down enough that she was able to stop taking medication.
No one will ever know all that Ariella endured prior to her rescue. No doubt she was saved within an inch of her life and did not know the embrace of a loving home prior to her adoption.
For Kendra, watching Ariella transform from hopeless to home puts her own emotional challenges in a new light.
“My PTSD seems insignificant to her trauma, yet she has given me her heart and trust in just a few short days,” she says. “I am blessed to have found her.”
“…right there at my side”
Ariella’s mere presence is helping Kendra weather life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Recently the Army veteran’s mother passed away. From the moment the phone rang Ariella seemed to sense something was wrong.
“She was right there at my side instantly,” Kendra says. “When I answered the phone and started talking to my brother, she just kept wiggling herself right up against me.”
Ariella’s tenderness towards people is remarkable considering that for most of her life she had been failed by them. Her rehabilitation proves that love is a powerful antidote to hopelessness.
The rescue dog is not only a loyal friend to Kendra, but a welcome dose of positivity to everyone around her.
Having Ariella in her life has helped Kendra look at herself anew.
“I am a caretaker,” she says. “She has been someone for me to take care of.”
Above all, adopting this dog who was left for dead has given new meaning to Kendra’s life.
“I feel like I have a purpose.”
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