Vietnam veteran with passion for service gives abandoned dog third chance at life

Vietnam veteran with passion for service gives abandoned dog third chance at life

John did not think twice when he had an opportunity to give a repeatedly abandoned dog a wonderful home. The Vietnam veteran knows all about second chances in life.

So long Saigon

“I am a 100% disabled veteran.”

The Vietnam war is long over, but this elderly Air Force veteran lives with daily reminders of the accident that led to his permanent disability.

From 1964 to 1965 John deployed to Vietnam as a logistics specialist. He was stationed in Saigon, known now as Ho Chi Minh City. He remembers the accident as though it happened yesterday.

“It happened on the runway as I was training airmen to take inventory in the back of a cargo plane. It was a rainy day,” he recalls. “There were Marines departing from the plane with their gear and packs on their backs, as well as their rifles in their packs. One of them slipped, the rifle butt slammed into my left temple.”

John lost consciousness, and is permanently deaf in his left ear. But the Air Force veteran hears in the most important way of all: through his heart.

Two is better than one

John and his wife Pat prefer their dogs in pairs. 

“We’ve always had two dogs, primarily for friendship for one another,” he says. 

In 2016, after their dog Charlie passed away, the couple adopted a twice-surrendered Black Mouth Cur named Copper. They met the handsome hound through our partners Blount County Animal Shelter in Maryville, Tennessee.

Vietnam veteran with passion for service gives abandoned dog third chance at life

Since 2014, the shelter has made more than 100 fee-waived adoptions to veterans in our program.

“When we first got Copper I was having some heart problems,” John shares. “Copper adjusted well, but he was very high energy.”

For the love of an abandoned dog

About a year later John’s aortic valve was replaced with a synthetic one. At the time fewer than 500 such operations were performed in the United States.

Even though the procedure was successful, the Vietnam veteran was torn about what to do with Copper. The twice surrendered dog’s boundless energy led John and his wife to have doubts about keeping him.

Copper was a handful and the complete opposite of their resident dog, Hope. But John and his wife believed they owed Copper a chance. They were the abandoned dog’s third family.

“He deserves a good home,” John says.

The Air Force veteran reached out to Pets for Patriots for suggestions on how to find their energetic charge a new home. It was a heartbreaking decision for John to even consider rehoming his beloved dog.

For a few anguish-filled weeks John contemplated life without Copper. Through it all he realized that he could not live without the spirited pup.

“After a great deal of thought and spending time with Copper, we decided to do away with those thoughts of finding him another home,” John says. “Glad we did!”

Once John and Pat decided to keep Copper they were more committed to him than ever. They learned to accept his energy and found ways for him to expend it that have become part of their lifestyle.

 “We still have Copper, and he will be with us until we pass on or when he does. The way he runs around, he will probably outlive us,” John jokes. 

Born to run

John and Pat have lived in Maryville, Tennessee for 32 years. Their home features lovely mountain views and plenty of room for Copper to run. 

Satisfying Copper’s exercise needs has been key to making his adoption such a success.

“Copper had no place to get around,” John says, speaking of the twice surrendered dog’s previous homes. “Playing ball is primarily what he loves. Retrieving the ball, and running and running.”

The couple’s thoughts of giving up Copper are now well in the past. John feels proud of the new life that he and Pat are able to give the once hapless hound.

“We had the perfect environment for him really, and he’s free,” John says. “He has a lot of space to release his energy.”

Copper does spend time indoors as well. He can often be found lounging beside John in his home office or napping at Pat’s feet while she crochets. And he and their other dog, Hope, are inseparable – even though she is far more subdued than Copper.

Still, most of Copper’s days are spent running in the yard, or playing tug-of-war or fetch. And there are plenty of shady trees where he can cool down and nap when he gets tired.

“We look over the Smoky Mountains,” John says. “In the back, there are fields with cows.”

It is an idyllic life for a dog no one seemed to want. He and Hope even share some daily rituals. For instance, they both start each day with a banana.

“They love bananas,” John says.

“…a wonderful, wonderful dog”

John and Pat could not be more content with their pack. But the Vietnam veteran admits he has a soft spot for the abandoned dog who he once considered adopting away.

Vietnam veteran with passion for service gives abandoned dog third chance at life

“I’m probably a little bit more attached to Copper,” he says. “He comes up to me all the time to be petted and stroked. I can sit there and rub his back for an hour and he won’t move.” 

The interaction is therapeutic. And while John did not adopt in order to help cope with his disability, he appreciates how companion pets can make a difference in veterans’ lives.

“There’s a lot of veterans in really bad shape, and these animals serve as a healing process for them,” he says. 

Even so, there is no doubt that Copper makes the Air Force veteran’s life better. It is almost as though Copper realizes how close he came to losing the best home and family he ever had.

“He’s adapted really well,” John says. “He’s been just a wonderful, wonderful dog.”

A passion for serving others

These days, John continues to do consulting work in the financial industry. It helps him stay busy and keeps his mind sharp, but allows him to help others in need as well.

“Whatever I can give, I give,” he says. “We help vets in need for food and travel.”

John is a lifetime member of AMVETS, a Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization formed in 1944. Locally, he helps with their food pantry as well as small home improvement projects for veterans in need.

But the Vietnam veteran’s giving does not stop there. John supports causes such as the Marine Toys for Tots program and Shop With a Cop, too.

Even other Pets for Patriots veterans have benefitted from John’s generous spirit. In addition to donations, John has purchased some of our charity t-shirts and has made his local AMVETS chapter aware of our work.

And every opportunity he gets, John shares our brochures in the hopes of saving more veterans and shelter pets. The Vietnam veteran has a simple perspective on giving.

“If everybody did a little,” he observes, “it would amount to a whole bunch.”

If one particular member of John’s family could talk, he would say that what John has done for him amounts to a “whole bunch” – and then some.

Copper was on the verge of losing his third chance at life. John loved this twice abandoned dog so much that he contemplated finding him a more suitable home.

But instead, John made his home and lifestyle more accommodating to his four-legged charge. He found a way to give to Copper what the spirited hound needed most.

“He’s a wonderful dog. He’s just a beautiful dog,” John says emphatically. “We love him to death.” 


  1. Christine E

    Copper has such a pretty face! I love your story and am so happy you were able to find a way to meet Copper’s exercise needs. He and Hope are lucky dogs. Thank you for your many types of service and “giving back.”

  2. Panda J.

    Thank you for your service, John. It made me smile to read your story today, and the pictures you shared here show the love you and Copper have for each other. I’m so glad you didn’t give up on him…God bless both you and your wife for giving him the home he needed and deserved. I’ve visited the Maryville area several times and it’s a beautiful place…my intention was to retire to Townsend, but that wasn’t in the cards for me, after all. Thanks for reminding me of the good people that live in that area.

  3. Mary Eaton

    Thank you for sharing your story and not giving up on Copper. He is indeed very handsome. Dogs, and cats as well, have personalities just as we do and sometimes it may take some months before a sense that this could be a good fit after all (been there and done that). Thank you for your service to our country as well as your local area and the many “hats” you wear. Do take time to enjoy for you sound to have a very busy lifestyle!

    Thank you Blount County Animal Shelter for in fee-waiving adoption fees.

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