Shelter dogs and cats are matched with veterans via Pets for Patriots.
Veteran Donald Rhodes adopted Yankee, a rescue dog, through the low-cost pets-for-patriots program from Harford County Conn. Animal shelter. Kenneth K. Lam/ Baltimore Sun/ TNS
BALTIMORE — When Army sergeant Stacey Martin returns home late at night, she finds Autumn, er dog, waiting at attention by the door — except for her tail, which quivers in anticipation. Martin, too, is in a hurry. It's a special occasion for both of them.
Martin, 26, of Belcamp, Md., said, I can have the worst day at work, but when I walk in she's so glad to see me. It's a sensation like no other to have an animal adore you wholeheartedly" Autumn gets up on my sadness, gravitates toward me, and kisses my face. She has brought out those emotions that are close and dear to my heart at some of the toughest times of my life.
That's the mission of Pets for Patriots, a national nonprofit that works with animal shelters to encourage military personnel, both active and retired, to adopt homeless dogs and cats. Martin and her sergeant husband, Antonio, learned about the program four years ago when stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and found Autumn at the Humane Society of Harford County in Fallston. As an incentive, Pets for Patriots participants receive adoption discounts, $150 gift cards for pet supplies, and, on occasion, veterinarian markdowns
The gift card was extremely helpful, but we would have accepted Autumn regardless, Martin said.
Since 2010, Pets for Patriots, the brainchild of a Long Island woman, has matched military people with more than 3,700 animals (85% dogs, 15% cats).
I had an epiphany while washing dishes one Memorial Day, said creator Beth Zimmerman, 59, of Long Beach. I considered veterans and the problems they confront, as well as the dilemma of (homeless) animals who are difficult to adopt.
She pondered whether matching the two wrongs would result in a right
Those in the military are frequently stationed in locations where they have no family or friends — except the pet they've adopted, Zimmerman explained. It's a vital link.
At the same time, veterans who have left the military may find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. They may lack the clarity of purpose they had in the military, and caring for a pet gives them that structure, as well as a friend, back.
Some veterans tell us that they only share their secrets to their dog or cat, no matter how much they love their families. There are some topics they are unable to discuss with others, and this release is critical to their mental health. It's a four-legged form of rehabilitation.
All Pets for Patriots asks is that adoptees come with some baggage, whether it's as an older animal, one with special needs, or another condition that has put them on a shelter's shelf for whatever reason. That clause exists for a reason.
Many veterans who are dealing with physical or emotional concerns see a reflection of their own problems in the animals they adopt, Zimmerman explained. We had a young airman who came home from deployment to discover that his wife had abandoned him. He eventually went to a shelter and discovered a dog that had also been abandoned, shivering in a cage. The two of them were on the same page.
Clients have stated that adopting a pet saved not only the animal's life, but also their own. Adopting a deformed dog named Thunder, for example, rescued an Air Force veteran in Illinois from contemplating suicide.
Every narrative may not be tearjerker-worthy, but every (coupling) enriches the life of the other, Zimmerman said.
Autumn, a retriever-pit bull mix, is such an important part of Martin's busy life that she and her husband took the dog with them to Japan in 2019. Summer was the name they gave their first kid last year, which she described as a coincidence.
Autumn had been adopted by them when they were on their honeymoon.
Martin, an Army veterinary technician, stated, I said, 'Let's go to a shelter and look around. I'm a dog person, and my hubby is always up for going on trips with me.
Autumn snatched her heart right away
She was simply a baby, around 10 months old, sitting there unhappy yet with the most beautiful eyes. Right there, I fell in love with her, Martin recalled. But there was a catch: the puppy was infected with ringworm and could not be adopted until the rash had cleared up.
The fact that she was in a kennel broke my heart. She stated, I wanted her to come home with me. I then played the'vet tech' card and told her I could treat her at home.
The Martins welcomed their infant baby four days after their wedding. The 42-pound canine sat in the back seat, behind the driver, Antonio, and placed her head on his shoulder on the way home from the Harford shelter.
Why did you give her the name Autumn?
It was autumn, and her lovely eyes reminded me of autumn leaves, Martin explained.
The dog has always slept with her parents.
She prefers to cuddle on her own terms," her owner stated, with her head on our legs, touching us in some way. She'll snore when she's sleeping deeply, and when she dreams, she'll whimper, her eyes will go crazy, and her tail will wag a little.
The pair was sent to Camp Zuma, a military base 25 miles from Tokyo, seven months later. Autumn followed suit, avoiding Japan's severe six-month canine quarantine laws by relocating to a US Army base. Soon later, the Martins got a new puppy, a 2-month-old mongrel with a shredded ear who had been rescued off-base by soldiers who had spotted children picking on the pup
We were looking at getting a second dog, she explained, and 'Jasper' just fell into our lap.
The two mutts are now friends.
We call Jasper 'the librarian' because he's a bit dull, Martin explained. He can be a nagging little brother to Autumn. He'll try to steal her toy if she has one, albeit he actually merely wants it to upset her. Autumn is a person with a distinct personality. When she gets excited, she gets the "zoomies" and starts rushing back and forth, knocking things over, while Jasper just stares. Jasper is never able to obtain the zoomies.
Autumn is a devoted aunt to the Martins' kid, often sleeping with her head on Summer's legs.
Her owner described her a "a family member in every aspect.
Donald Rhodes remembers the day his Abingdon family went to the same Harford County shelter and explored the boisterous aisles.
One dog, a boxer mix, greeted us by jumping against the side of his cage, recalled Rhodes, 52. When our daughter, Layla, saw him, she said, 'Calm down. Sit,' he said, and he did.
And Rhodes, who had served in the military for 24 years, thought to himself, Any dog that will obey an 8-year-old is the dog for me.
Pets for Patriots helped them adopt the dog. Yankee, who was once starved and tormented, is now a svelte 110-pound house pet who can read Rhodes like a book after seven years.
Yankee picks up on my mood on a regular basis, his owner remarked. If my wife and I are fighting, he becomes concerned and attempts to soothe us. He'll lick your hand and nuzzle up to you.
Rhodes didn't feel compelled to adopt until he resigned from the military. He served 14 years in the Air Force and another 10 years in the Air National Guard as a communications technician. He now works for the Army as an engineering contractor at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Yankee, he continued, is a big galoot who keeps him busy even at 11, as evidenced by his latest encounter with a skuk.
I let him out at night a week ago to do his job. When I went to get him, he rushed out of the darkness, accompanied by a tremendous odor. So there I was, washing him in the driveway at 12 a.m. He's still rotten.
The Rhodes have rescued yet another dog after Yankee's arrival, this time a Chihuahua named Lilly. Who do you think is the alpha dog?
Lilly is in charge, Rhodes stated. Yankee could swallow her if he wanted to, but he acts like a scaredy-cat when she calls his bluff.