Dan did not set out to adopt a hero dog. He was aching from the loss of his beloved black Labrador, Pluto, who died at age 13 after battling kidney cancer.
One month after losing Pluto and on the advice of his adult daughter, Dan visited the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center. Since 2012, the shelter has offered veterans in our program a 50 percent adoption fee discount. To date we have 99 veteran-pet adoptions through this partnership.
The veteran was smitten with a chocolate Lab at the shelter who reminded him of Pluto, and wanted to adopt him. Upon returning the next day with his wife he learned that the dog already had three applications from other families who wanted him, too.
And then fate stepped in.
Lola the hero dog
Dan soon realized that he would likely need to find another dog to adopt. He soon saw a dog – much older than he was looking for – but with a story so compelling he was moved to save her.
“I [had] seen Lola in a cage behind him,” he recalls. “She was pretty, you could tell she was older.”
Lola’s story was heartbreaking.
The then nine year-old mixed breed dog saved her family when she alerted them to a house fire. Miraculously everyone got out safely, but the entire family – Lola and a puppy included – were left homeless.
Lola’s family left a note saying they had to give her up because they lost everything; they could not keep Lola or her puppy. While the younger dog was adopted right away, Lola – at more than nine years old – waited in the shelter for about three months before Dan met her.
“I knew that I needed to help this dog,” he shares.
From the skies to the seas
Dan grew up in the mountains of Oakland, Maryland. In 1984, he left college to enlist in the Air Force. After his tour of duty ended in 1988, he returned home to Maryland to spend more time with his then year-old daughter. He got a job at a power plant using skills he learned in the Air Force, but soon realized that his prospects were limited.
The Air Force veteran decided to return to the military and in 1990 enlisted in the Coast Guard.
At one point Dan was stationed at Wallace Air Station, a remote base at a power plant in the Philippines. It was one of his favorite assignments: there were only 60 people on base and being there felt like a “vacation.”
Other assignments were less tranquil. Twice Dan was deployed to Honduras, running mobile generators for tent cities and to supply power to build schools. In 1994 he separated from the military and re-enlisted for the same reason: to best provide for his family.
A year before Dan left the Coast Guard, the family decided to get a dog and have had one ever since.
“We always had dogs, both of my daughters have two dogs of their own,” he says. “A dog pretty much will love you unconditionally, [a] dog is always happy to see you when you come home.”
Dan now spends his days working for the Coast Guard as a civilian. As an inventory manager, he is in charge of all the aviation life-support equipment such as rescue baskets, emergency systems, oxygen cylinders, rafts, and more.
Adopting a more mature pet
Dan discovered Pets for Patriots on the internet.
We serve veterans from WWII to those currently in service. Approved veterans receive a range of benefits to make having a pet more affordable. To qualify for benefits they must adopt a program-eligible dog or cat from one of hundreds of shelter partners nationwide.
“I read some of the Wet Nose blogs,” Dan says, referring to our published adoption stories, “and I was thinking this would be a good program because I saw that they offered a lot of advantages for adopting an older dog.”
Within two weeks of being approved into our program Dan adopted Lola, the hero dog who saved her previous family from a house fire.
It did not take long for the older pup to dispel some of the myths that many people have about adopting more mature pets.
“She sure has a lot of energy for a nine year-old,” he observes. “She’s going to get me in better health.”
Dan not only appreciates the health benefits of adopting an older companion pet. He understands that their very lives often depend upon someone adopting them.
“I liked the idea that they help senior dogs and cats get a chance at better life – and possibly save theirs,” he says, adding that he believes our program is good for veterans as well.
Old dog, new life
For her part, Lola is adjusting to her new family. Dan’s wife works nights, so the hero dog keeps her veteran company when he returns from work. The pair do almost everything together.
“She’s well mannered, well behaved in the house, she’s house-broken,” he says, “and she likes to sleep in the bed. I get up first in the morning, and Lola gets back in bed with my wife.”
The family has since moved from Virginia to North Carolina, where they have ample property. The move has given the veteran a formidable project to create an area where Lola can run unfettered.
“We go for walks, and I am working on fencing my yard so she can run off leash and play,” Dan says. “My goal is to finish the fence by spring 2020.”
In the meantime, Lola is unrelenting when it comes to her daily walks. It forces Dan to be more mindful of his health as well.
“She’s trying to get me healthier, trying to walk more, get more exercise,” he says.
Love, time and patience heals all wounds
Like any pet, Lola has her issues. She does not enjoy the company of other dogs. And she has tremendous anxiety in the car and will bark until Dan gives her a security blanket, which she chews on to allay her fears. Still, even this has improved with time – and practice.
Lola has been on a few camping trips and loves the trails. The hero dog is even starting to enjoy long car rides, perhaps because she associates them with a new, exciting adventure. In June 2019 the family took a 350-mile road trip to western Maryland.
“Lola did great,” Dan reports. “She loves to go for rides now.”
Dan could not have asked for a better dog. He encourages other veterans to consider adopting a dog or cat – and to consider an older animal as well.
“I think that [for] other veterans, it could be a companion that will offer you unconditional love every day,” he shares. “I wouldn’t be afraid to adopt older dogs because sometimes they are smarter than younger dogs, they’ve already been trained. It made it easier to make my mind up about getting a senior dog, [I] had never considered it before.”
You are not alone
Our team checks in with Dan to see how he and Lola are doing. In fact, we follow up with every adoption for a minimum of one year.
Even for veterans who adopted years prior, we are here for them if they have questions, need help, or are looking to add another pet to their pack.
“[They’re] good with the follow up and checking in to make sure everything is going alright,” Dan says. “Pretty sure they would help you with anything they could.”
Lola is one of many companion dogs and cats who found themselves homeless through no faults of their own. Still, while this hero dog lost her original home and family she gained a new one that loves her to pieces.
And for Dan, the only option when he looks for a pet is adoption.
“I think I will always adopt shelter dogs because there are so many good dogs looking for a good home.”