Patrick is an Army war veteran who adopted a dog named Oliver in 2015 while volunteering at his local shelter. Oliver was three years old at the time and had already spent more than a third of his life in the shelter.
A lot has since changed for this Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, but his passion for helping others has never wavered.
Bundles of joy
Patrick and his wife always wanted a family. The couple decided to adopt since helping others is a central theme of their lives.
“It was kind of the same thought process as with Oliver, where we want the hard ones,” Patrick explains. “We’re actively telling you we want hard ones. We want the ones that are looked over.”
The couple began fostering classes in May 2015. Just a few months prior they adopted Oliver from Macon County Animal Care and Control and Care Center, which has partnered with us since 2013.
After several weeks of training Patrick and his wife received a license to foster children in the State of Illinois. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed one and two year-old siblings into their home.
After two years of fostering the children the couple decided to adopt. The children are now four and five years old, respectively. Life has been busy for this growing family.
At first, Patrick was worried about adjusting to balancing a full household, especially with two new babies and his pets. But he knew that he and his wife would do whatever it takes to make things work.
Like most rescue animals, Oliver’s previous life is a mystery. Although he spent more than 450 days in the shelter, no one knows what his life was like before then.
Oliver was good with the family’s other dog and the cats, but the couple did not know how he would be around small children. Yet, Patrick had faith. And he knew that adopting a companion pet is a lifetime commitment.
“It’s going to work out. We’ll make it work,” he recalls of the experience. “We are never getting rid of Oliver. Ever, ever, ever.”
These days the Army veteran’s house is full with two children, two dogs, and six cats. Yet he finds time to pursue a degree in sociology from a prestigious online university.
When the only thing that stays the same is change
Like many people, Patrick has taken different and various paths in his life.
Originally he studied physics. He imagined working for NASA or pursuing his own research. But while his studies were stimulating intellectually they left him feeling somewhat empty.
So the Army veteran switched gears. He now works as a veteran service officer for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in Illinois. In this role he helps other veterans apply for the benefits they earned through their military service.
In truth, it is just another way that Patrick is helping others.
“I’m very fortunate to have this job,” he says. “I get to help veterans in a different way.”
The Army veteran is an equal opportunity giver, however. While he is helping people in meaningful ways, he misses volunteering at the shelter from which he adopted Oliver.
Patrick had a more unconventional schedule at his previous job, which left him free time to volunteer during shelter hours. Now that he has a more traditional work day his time is much more limited.
The void leaves Patrick feeling guilty at times. He regrets not having more time to volunteer.
“It is frustrating because that’s such a huge part of my life.”
In 2016, Patrick knew that something had to give. He was studying physics at the time and realized that helping others – human or animal – was what made him tick.
“It hit me like ‘Oh G-d, I’ve wasted my life.’ And it was the most euphoric and crushing moment, and it’s so hard to describe that because it’s exactly what it sounds like,” Patrick explains.
“I was the happiest and saddest I have ever been in my entire life in that moment when I realized I know what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I’m not doing it. And I’m actively pursuing a college course that is something I don’t want to do. It’s very weird, that moment of clarity.”
Helping others, whether two- or four-legged
Since that revelation Patrick has considered all the different ways he could be helping others. He thought about going into child protective services, but says he would find it hard to walk away from difficult situations.
Even though he loves his current job at the VA, Patrick has a vision to work full-time in animal rescue within the next few years. Ideally he would like to combine both career paths – help veterans and animals – similar to Pets for Patriots.
Saving Oliver played a big role in finding that balance. The once chronically homeless Pit Bull was a catalyst for many positive changes in Patrick’s life.
“Adopting Oliver literally changed my life. I can pass that on to veterans who might not know,” he says. “Like, ‘Hey, there’s a shelter in town that has all these dogs, just waiting for you. And if you’re lonely or tired or like, freaked out, this dog is going to help you measurably.'”
Deed, not breed
Oliver has helped his Army veteran see Pit Bulls in a new light.
In 2012 – years before Patrick adopted Oliver – he volunteered at a Pennsylvania animal shelter. One day he walked a Pit Bull who seemed to go after him.
“It wasn’t like he was trying to hurt me. He was just being really playful,” he recalls. “But he shredded my jeans, and bloodied my shins and ripped my shirt. And his jaws were so strong.”
The Army veteran continued to walk the dog on occasion, but admits he was leery.
Since adopting Oliver, however, Patrick educates others who might believe the stereotypes he used to believe. He understands that love and training go a long way.
“Oliver has really taught me that it’s not the breed,” he says, “because Oliver is a big goober.”
So when Patrick decided to volunteer in his current hometown, he had to decide between three nearby shelters. The Macon County Animal Care and Control Center had a lot of bully breeds.
The war veteran hesitated – at first.
“But the more I thought about it I was like, ‘Dude, come on. They obviously need you more.'”
Patrick credits Oliver with his newfound perspective.
“[Oliver has] taught me that having a Pit Bull you don’t only have a responsibility of being a pet parent to the pet, but you have the responsibility to be an advocate and showing people that Pit Bulls are totally normal. They are no different than any other dog out there.”
“He’s one of my best friends”
Oliver has become a more confident dog since being adopted. He is patient with other pets in the home – including Pandora, a Border Collie – and with the children as well.
Most of all, Oliver just wants to be part of the family.
“Oliver is down for whatever. Like whatever you want to do is cool as long as he’s with you,” Patrick says. “Like he just wants to spend time with me. And I think it’s just so great.”
Patrick often wonders about his Pit Bull’s past life. He remembers seeing him in his kennel at the shelter.
“But seeing Oliver behind those bars is so sobering. It’s just like, that was his life for a year. My Oliver, my big boy. Every day, seeing that gate. Every day, seeing that cage. And being stuck behind there. And being loved, I mean, he was loved by the volunteers and for whatever reason, he just wasn’t adopted until we were there. That’s what I think about,” Patrick says.
“I think about how he was there for so long. You think about a year, he was there for over a year. He was there for over 400 days in that spot, just waiting. And that’s the thing, too, that kills me. I wonder what his life was like before that. He came from somewhere. Where did he come from? They found him as a stray. He was just wandering around Decatur. So what was his story?”
Although those questions will likely go unanswered, Patrick is undeterred.
“I love talking about Oliver. He’s one of my best friends. And he’s a cool guy.”
Back to the future
Now that Patrick started the transition to full-time animal rescue he is coming to terms that he cannot save every animal. He reaches out to other animal welfare professionals to learn how they cope.
“I’ve touched based with dozens of rescues and the ASPCA and different groups and asked, ‘What do you do every day? Give me a list from 8 a.m. to whenever you’re done. What do you do? And what had helped you?’”
But Oliver taught Patrick that while every dog or cat cannot be saved, every life saved matters.
“He’s been very helpful to me as far as remembering that I’m starting off in small circles, where in this sphere of influence that I have now, I have two dogs and six cats in my house, I’m helping them. If I see a stray cat or a stray dog, I help them,” he explains. “So that’s my sphere currently, and I’m always working to increase my influence.”
Looking back, Patrick realized this was his passion all along. He even volunteered for animal shelters throughout college.
“I told my wife, ‘I wish they had a major in dog walking,” he says. “It just totally went over my head. Like this is what you want to do, dude.”
Helping pets, helping veterans
Even though Patrick found his calling in animal welfare, he still wants to help others. He knows firsthand how uplifting it can be for veterans to have companion pets in their lives.
“There is no ideal situation. You are not the ideal adopter,” he says. “There is no ideal dog, but finding the perfect dog, like I would tell veterans, follow your instinct. If you see a dog or a cat that – for whatever reason – speaks to you, and if you can’t get them out of your head, go for it.”
Patrick knows that transitioning from service to civilian life can be tough. He observes that active duty personnel spend time with the same people all day, every day.
It can be difficult to related to others who have not lived that same lifestyle. This is one reason why so many veterans who separate from service feel disconnected from family and friends.
But Patrick believes that military veterans often make excellent pet adopters.
“I think that culturally, we are keyed up for having pets. I don’t know what it is. I feel like having the responsibility of a pet, having that person, that dog, that cat that is with you constantly is good because we need someone around us, to talk to, to be responsible for, to have that camaraderie with,” he shares.
Still, the Army veteran understands that companion pet adoption is mutually beneficial. Two souls are saved, whether adopting a dog or a cat.
“It’s a team effort. It’s not just you swooping in to save the dog,” he says. “The dog is helping you too. You’re a team now.”