Pets for Patriots Finds Homes for Rescue Animals with Veterans

BALTIMORE — When Stacey Martin, an Army sergeant, returns home at night, she finds Autumn, her dog, by the door, sitting at attention — except for her tail, which is shaking with trepidation. ‘anticipation. Martin can hardly wait either. It’s a precious moment for both of them.

“I can have the shittest day at work, but when I walk in she’s so excited to see me,” said Martin, 26, of Belcamp, Maryland. “Having an animal that loves you unconditionally is a feeling like no other. When I’m down, Autumn notices, gravitates toward me, and licks my face. In some of the worst times of my life, she’s brought out those emotions that are near and dear to my heart.

That’s the goal of Pets for Patriots, a national organization that networks with animal shelters to promote the adoption of homeless dogs and cats by serving and retired military personnel. Four years ago, while stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Martin and her husband, Sergeant Antonio, heard about the program and found Autumn at the Humane Society of Harford County in Fallston. Pets for Patriots attendees receive adoption discounts, $150 gift cards for pet supplies, and sometimes vet discounts as incentives.

“The gift card helped a lot but, honestly, we would have taken the fall anyway,” Martin said.

Since 2010, Pets for Patriots — the brainstorming of a Long Island woman — has found homes for more than 3,700 animals (85% dogs, 15% cats) with military personnel.

“One Memorial Day, I had an epiphany while washing the dishes,” said founder Beth Zimmerman, 59, of Long Beach, New York. “I thought about veterans and the issues they face, and the plight of [homeless] animals that are difficult to adopt.

Combining the two wrongs, she thought, would do some good.

“Those who serve in the military often move to places where they have no family or friends — only the pet they’ve adopted,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a critical link.”

At the same time, “Veterans who are separated from service may find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. They may not have clarity of their purpose in the military – and caring for a pet helps them feel like they have that structure, and a buddy, back.

“Some veterans tell us that although they love their family, they only tell their secrets to their dog or cat. There are things they just can’t tell others about, and this release is extremely important for their mental health. It’s like therapy on all fours.

All Pets for Patriots requires is that adoptees carry luggage – whether it’s an older pet, a special-needs pet, or some other issue that for some reason has kept them on the shelf. from a shelter. There is a reason for this provision.

“Many veterans facing physical or emotional challenges see a reflection of their own issues in the pets they adopt,” Zimmerman said. “We had a young Airman who returned home from deployment to find his wife had left him. [Eventually] he went to a shelter and found a dog, curled up in a cage, which had also been abandoned. The two understood each other. »

Customers have acknowledged that kissing a pet has not only saved the animal’s life, but theirs as well. Like the Air Force veteran in Illinois who admitted adopting a disfigured dog named Thunder saved her from suicide.

“Not every story might be worthy of a Kleenex, but every [pairing] improves everyone’s life,” Zimmerman said.

A mix of retriever and pit bull, Autumn is an anchor in Martin’s busy life, so much so that in 2019 when she and her partner were deployed to Japan, they took the dog with them. . And last year, when they had their first child, they named her Summer — “a coincidence,” she said.

In fact, they had adopted Autumn on their honeymoon.

“I said, ‘Let’s go to a shelter and look around,'” said Martin, an army veterinary technician. “I’m very dog-centric and my husband is always up for my adventures.”

Right off the bat, Autumn stole her heart.

“She was just a 10-month-old baby, just sitting there kinda sad but with the most beautiful eyes. I fell in love with her right there,” Martin said. But there was a catch: the puppy had ringworm and could not be adopted until he was cured of the rash.

“It hurt my heart that she was in a kennel. I wanted her to be home with me,” she said. “That’s when I pulled out the ‘vet tech’ card and said I could treat her at home.”

Four days after their wedding, the Martins welcomed their newcomer. On the way back from the Harford shelter, the 42-pound pooch sat in the back seat, behind the driver, Antonio, and rested her head on his shoulder.

Why call it Autumn?

“It was fall and her beautiful eyes reminded me of fall leaves,” Martin said.

From the beginning, the dog slept with his parents.

“She likes to cuddle on her own terms, her head on our legs, touching us in some way,” her owner said. “In deep sleep she snores, and when she dreams she moans, her eyes go crazy and her tail wags a little.”

Seven months later, the couple were deployed to Camp Zuma, a military post 25 miles from Tokyo. Autumn followed suit, bypassing Japan’s strict six-month quarantine rules for dogs, as she would be living on the US military base. Shortly after, the Martins added another dog, a 2-month-old mongrel with a torn ear who had been rescued off base by soldiers who saw children picking on the pup.

“We had explored the option of a second dog,” she said, “and ‘Jasper’ kind of fell into our laps.”

Now the two pooches are buddies.

“We call Jasper ‘the librarian’ because he’s kind of boring,” Martin said. “For Autumn, he can be like an annoying little brother. If she has a toy, he will try to steal it, although he really only wants to disturb her. Autumn has a personality. Sometimes, when she’s excited, she gets “the zooms” and starts running back and forth, knocking things over while Jasper just watches her. Jasper never gets the zooms.

Autumn is a doting aunt to the Martins’ daughter, often resting her head on Summer’s legs while the baby sleeps.

“He’s a family member in every way,” his owner said.

Donald Rhodes recalled the day his Abingdon family walked the noisy alleys of the same Harford County shelter.

“A dog, a boxer mix, jumped up against the side of his cage to greet us,” Rhodes, 52, said. “Our daughter, Layla, looked at him and said, ‘Calm down. Sit.’ So he did.

And Rhodes, who had spent 24 years in the army, said to himself: any dog ​​that takes orders from an 8-year-old is the dog for me.

They adopted the pooch through Pets for Patriots. Seven years later, Yankee – once emaciated and abused – is a beloved 110-pound pet who can read Rhodes like a book.

“The Yankee regularly signals my mood to me,” his owner said. “If my wife and I have an argument, he worries and tries to calm us down. He will snuggle up and lick your hand.

It wasn’t until he retired from the service that Rhodes felt like adopting. A communications technician, he spent 14 years on active duty in the Air Force and another 10 in the Air National Guard. He is now an engineering contractor for the army at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Yankee, he says, is a big brat who, even at 11, keeps him busy, like during his recent run-in with a skunk.

“A week ago, I let him out at night to do his thing. When I went to pick it up, it came running out of the dark, with this huge smell. So I was there at midnight, washing it in the driveway. It still stinks.

Since Yankee’s arrival, the Rhodes have rescued another, a Chihuahua named Lilly. Guess who the alpha dog is?

“Lilly rules the roost,” Rhodes said. “Yankee could swallow her if he wanted to, but when she calls his bluff, he acts like a scary cat.”

Veteran Donald Rhodes adopted Yankee, a rescue dog, through the low-cost Patriots Pet Program at the Harford County Animal Shelter in Connecticut.

“The Yankee regularly signals my mood to me,” his owner said.

Yankee – once emaciated and abused – is a beloved 110-pound pet who can read veteran Donald Rhodes like a book.

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