How a Vietnam veteran changed the life of a twice-surrendered shelter dog

How a Vietnam veteran changed the life of a twice-surrendered shelter dog

Decades after the Vietnam War John would save a twice-surrendered shelter dog and change both of their lives forever. It would come as no surprise to anyone who knew the man who made it his life’s passion to help others.

Early days

In 1962, John joined the Air Force during his last year of high school.

During his four years of service John was “scattered all over the darn place.” Stateside he was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Rome, New York. Ultimately he was deployed to Saigon during the Vietnam War.

John was an administrative airman, sent to Saigon to manage equipment and supplies for the Air Force. It was there that he had his most memorable experience.

“I was in the rear of a cargo plane training some guys on doing inventory,” he recalls. “It was rainy like it usually was there, and one of the Marines on the back of the plane slipped, and the butt of his rifle went right into my left temple. I lost the hearing in my left ear.”

Still a helper: post-military life

In March, 1965 John completed his tour of duty and was discharged from the Air Force. Three months later he married. The Vietnam veteran then finished business college and became the manager of a chain of restaurants in his hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.

However, it seems that John was destined for much more. 

“My in-laws lived in Florida, and while I was there I met an individual who was in the banking business in Jacksonville,” he says. “I became more interested in banking and we relocated to Florida.”

John’s time in Florida was productive. While there he got into the mortgage lending and banking industry. He launched three mortgage companies and spent 20 years helping senior citizens who were experiencing financial hardship.

How a Vietnam veteran changed the life of a twice-surrendered shelter dog

Although John has since retired and now lives in Tennessee, he still manages to stay busy. True to his nature, he spends his free time helping others. 

“I’m involved with the Meals on Wheels program,” he says, “I’m active in the American Legion.” 

The Air Force veteran has quite a large family to keep him on his toes as well. 

“I have two daughters, seven grandchildren, and one great grandson who is eight months old.”

A loss, and an addition to the family

John and his wife Pat already had a dog named Hope and lost their other dog, Charlie, to a heart attack. They were beset with grief.

“I had always had at least two dogs since I was eight years old,” John says, explaining the couple’s decision to adopt another dog after losing Charlie.

The Air Force veteran was concerned about Hope as well; she was grieving, too.

“Hope and Charlie were inseparable,” he says. “Charlie was the only dog she knew. She was traumatized when he passed.”  

It was not long before John started his search for another four-legged family member. He and Pat went to the Blount County Animal Shelter, which since 2014 has partnered with Pets for Patriots to offer fee-waived adoptions to veterans in its community who save eligible dogs and cats. 

Pretty as a penny

It was at the shelter that John met a dog aptly named Copper. The Black Mouth Cur mix had a penny-colored coat and eyes that glistened with energy and a touch of mischief.

Copper was a twice-surrendered shelter dog.

The first time he was surrendered by a college student forced to relinquish ownership when she transferred to a new school. He was quickly adopted by another couple, but both members of the household worked full time and lived in an apartment. A rambunctious dog like Copper quickly became too much for them, and he was once again returned to the shelter’s care.

Life seemed bleak for the handsome hound until John and Pat came along. The Vietnam veteran admits that he took an instant liking to him.

How a Vietnam veteran changed the life of a twice-surrendered shelter dog

“I bonded immediately with Copper. He was such a beautiful dog,” he says.

The couple decided to bring in Hope for a meet and greet to see if the two dogs were compatible. As luck would have it, they hit it off right away and “bonded well.”

John knew Copper was the perfect dog for him when they noticed his reaction to other dogs at the shelter.

“We had Copper outside playing with him and getting to know him. He was behind a fence,” John explains, “but another dog who was being walked by the fence aggressively came at Copper, and he backed away from the dog and showed no signs of aggression.” 

John knew that Copper and Hope would get along just fine, and that the twice-surrendered shelter dog was the right fit for his family.

Third time is the charm for twice-surrendered shelter dog

Copper found the right family at the right time, and has proven himself to be a wonderful and enthusiastic pup. 

“His energy is unbelievable. He sure keeps us busy. He barks at everything. Barks at the lawnmower, and he gets along so well with Hope,” John says. “She’s very docile and calm, which is the exact opposite of Copper.”

The Air Force veteran admits that Copper has more energy than any dog he has encountered, but that is one of the reasons he and Pat love him so much. 

“He’s sure got his own personality.”

Thanks to John and Pat, Copper now has a place to burn off some of that energy. With plenty of yard and room to run, Cooper also shares a fully heated and cooled “doggy hotel” with his sister Hope.

Spreading the word

Copper has found his forever family. Two people and a dog “sister” who are totally devoted to his happiness. 

And it all came to pass because John happened to be wearing an Air Force shirt the day he walked into the Blount County Animal Shelter. The staff told him all about the benefits we offer as part of our mission to promote companion pet adoption. 

John not only jumped at the chance to adopt through our partnership with the shelter, but he became an advocate in the community for our organization. 

“I have been putting out brochures in a lot of places,” he says. “I talk to veterans continuously about what you do. Beth is great to communicate with. We established a good relationship. She’s very devoted to the organization.” 

Thanks to veterans like John who spread the word about Pets for Patriots, shelter pets like Copper are finding amazing homes. Copper finally found a family who appreciates his value – and that is worth more than all of the pennies in the world.  


  1. Alyson

    Thank you for your service and for giving Copper the chance at a forever home!

  2. Stacey

    John, thank you for your service and for all of the good deeds you’ve done throughout your life, including adopting Copper! I too, adopted a twice surrendered dog and I know how we changed each other’s lives for the better. I wish you, Copper and your family continued happiness!

  3. Viveca

    Love this!

  4. Christine E

    I needed a heartwarming story today, and yours sure is one. Thank you for all you do for pets and for people.

  5. Mary

    Copper is as handsome as can be and a welcome addition to your household for sure. Thank you for sharing your story. Beth and her team aren’t the only ones who have taken notice of your always positive feedback.

  6. John A. Smaldone

    Great story Beth, thank you very much and God Speed to you!

    John and Pat

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