Widower Coast Guard veteran gets new purpose in life with rescue dog

Widower Coast Guard veteran gets 'new purpose in life' with rescue dog

John knows a few things about loneliness. After losing his wife of more than four decades he got a new purpose in life with a shelter dog who needed to be rescued as well.

The crisis

John enlisted in the Coast Guard on something of a whim. A friend in the service told him he would likely serve stateside for his four-year tour of duty, but that was not to be for John.

“My first duty was on a tender inside channels in Baltimore, for about a year,” he says. “Got transferred to a 425-foot patrol gun boat called Ingram. That’s when I was out to sea the rest of my duty. Saw countries I otherwise would not have seen.”

Tenders are ships whose primary mission is to maintain open channels of navigation. They are used throughout United States waterways and where ever needed to support American maritime interests.

Serving in the Coast Guard was memorable for John. Like most veterans, he vividly recalls one experience above them all.

“The one that stands out is when I got called to captain’s quarters and told to pack up. A Navy helicopter that was picking me and two others up to transfer us to a naval ship headed to Cuba during the crisis,” he says. “We are not allowed to talk about it and I would rather not.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a tense 13-day standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba. Then President Kennedy advised the American people that all military options were on the table, and the world feared a nuclear war.

Thankfully, Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart negotiated a peaceful end to the standoff.

A friend for a friend

Life is quieter now for John. At times it was too quiet. He retired recently and still grieves the loss of his beloved wife, who passed away in 2011.

When the Coast Guard veteran contemplated adopting a companion pet in early 2019 it was not so much for himself as for his dog, Boomer. At the time John’s other dog, Buddy, had just passed away and Boomer was “grieving seriously.”

John visited his local shelter, City of Newport Animal Control.

The Tennessee shelter waives adoption fees for veterans in our program who adopt program-eligible dogs and cats.

“I found out when I went to adopt about Pets for Patriots by the shelter attendant and asked if I would like to apply,” John recalls, adding that the staffer was a veteran as well.

At the shelter John met a young Australian Cattle Dog mix named Rosco.

The dog’s beautiful markings, spirited personality, and loving nature made adopting him an easy decision for the lonely widower.

“I’m not sure who’s adopted who, but you can feel the love,” John says. “I lost my wife in 2011, so it’s me and the boys when not visited. Thank you all for what you’re doing for pets and veterans. You saved two lives every time your program is used. G-d bless you.”

“…a new purpose in life”

John was hopeful once again. The loss of his wife of 42 years still weighed heavily on his soul and Buddy’s death took its toll as well. Now he and Boomer had a new companion – Rosco – to uplift their sagging spirits. John once again had “the boys.”

“He’s a blessing to me and Boomer,” John says at the time, “and [has] given us a new purpose in life.”

But Boomer passed away just three weeks later and John was crestfallen once again. It was difficult to bear such profound losses over a relatively short period of time.

Fortunately, the Coast Guard veteran’s abundant faith navigated him through his grief.

“Little did I know G-d intended Rosco for me after losing everyone,” he shares. “Rosco knew nothing about anything except to love and be loved. Now two years later he has blessed my life with unconditional love, and knows everything about me and and everything else.”

Four-legged lifesaver

John looks back on the strange, at times tragic turn of events in his life and sees it as part of a larger plan. He believes that Rosco is G-d’s way of saving him from the aching loneliness he has experienced since the loss of his beloved wife and that was only compounded when Buddy and Boomer each died.

“I adopted Rosco – I thought for Boomer – and it was til he passed,” he says. “Then I realized Rosco was also for me.”

That realization has only deepened the bond between the widower and his trusty companion. John believes that it is a bond that has saved his life.

“Rosco has, and is, absolutely awesome and definitely a wonderful blessing. I honestly think I would not be here if not for him,” he shares. “We spend – since I retired – 22 hours a day most of the time just me and him. We talk to each other. He understands every word I say.”

Many veterans who adopt through our program tell us that their dogs and cats give them a renewed sense of purpose, even a reason to live. Companion pets accept their guardians as they are and ask for nothing but love in return.

John has coined this relationship “unconditional everything” to express the breadth and depth of Rosco’s devotion.

“Unconditional everything between us, and Rosco gives me a positive purpose for caring for his needs,” he shares. “He makes me feel loved and needed, otherwise I can’t think of anything else to be here for.”

You are not alone

Our typical post-adoption follow up lasts for one year, but we stay in touch with some veterans for far longer. It is important to let those who may live alone – save for their adopted pets – know that they are not alone.

In fact, it is our high-touch approach that John treasures most. He encourages other veterans who may be lonely or who have other reasons to adopt a pet to do so through Pets for Patriots.

Widower Coast Guard veteran gets 'new purpose in life' with rescue dog

“Absolutely do it. You all not only help with the adoption, but become family with the things you’re willing to help with. And most important, you stay interested and in touch – monthly – even after two years later,” he says. “There is no other organization I know of with that kind [of] a dedication to veterans and pets.”

John takes to our social media often to comment on other veterans’ adoption stories. He always has a kind word, and shares how Rosco has changed his life for the better.

“Rosco and I love being a part of Pets for Patriots family because you have made us feel like family,” he says. “Rosco and you all have been, and always [will] be, a G-d sent blessing to me. Words just can’t express the gratitude I have for you. My daughter even agrees that I’m still here because of you and Rosco. G-d bless you for your kindness and compassion in serving veterans and pets, and the many lives you have saved and continue to serve.”


  1. Christine E

    John, Thank you for your Service and for adopting beautiful Rosco. Pets do change lives, and Pets for Patriots goes above and beyond to make that happen. Wishing you and Rosco many happy years together.

  2. Alyson A.

    Thank you for your service and for sharing your story. What a blessing that you and Rosco found each other. You make a beautiful family together. God bless you.

  3. Christine vercellino

    John your story touches my heart ❤. Thank you for your service and for adopting your buddy Rosco. Shelter animals are the most grateful, loving loyal pets. They are like no other. May you spend so many happy memories together as best friends .

  4. Dan Knotts

    John and Rosco wishing you many happy years together. Thank you for your service, welcome to the pets for patriots family, I too am a Coast Guard vet and adopted my loving 11-1/2 year old dog Lola through the pets for patriots program. What a wonderful and compassionate program for vets and animals needing forever homes.

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