Donner was a big, energetic Labrador Retriever mix in a Florida shelter. Surrendered twice within his first year of life, he repaid the disabled Air Force veteran who adopted him by completing his young family and helping him regain his health.
Love is in the air
John fell in love while stationed in the United Kingdom as a member of the United States Air Force, during which time he served in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. When he eventually returned to the United States he was accompanied by not only a wife, but a new baby as well.
Injuring his leg “ranks high up on the list” of John’s memorable Air Force memories, but he enjoys reminiscing about a less painful experience he had while working base security. A senior officer sought entry to a prohibited area, but did not have the proper authorization.
Now separated from service, happily married and a proud father, John still could not help but feel that his family was missing something. His quest for completeness and companionship soon led him to a large yellow dog longing for a home and people to call his own.
Completing the puzzle
The Air Force veteran knew that a dog would help motivate him to exercise his injured leg on a regular basis, something he was having trouble doing on his own. He started his search the way many people do: on the internet, where he first found out about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for military veterans.
“Got interested and followed through,” he says. “There was a local shelter, so [I] decided to go there. The animals there were all very well looked-after and healthy. Decided with my wife and son almost immediately that we were going to go ahead and adopt a dog.”
John and his wife, along with their son, visited Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Wellington, Florida, one of hundreds of shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies and municipal animal controls we partner with to make the best pet-person match. There they found Ajax – originally named Donner – a big, yellow Labrador Retriever mix. The connection was instant, as if Ajax had chosen them.
“Now our family could be complete,” John says. “And I certainly had the motivation to walk him and exercise my leg.”
In time, John and his family would discover why Ajax had been surrendered to the shelter twice within his first year.
Walking the walk
The Air Force veteran realized almost immediately how the big dog’s unsettled past had at least one negative consequence: no one ever trained Ajax. Among other things he did not know how to walk properly on leash.
“He pulls hard on the leash, especially when walking along a road with heavy traffic,” John says. “But this is something we are all working on, and have now got him to the stage where he will sit and wait for the traffic to clear a bit before continuing the walk. Obviously he gets a treat for being such a brave boy and not trying to run into the road, which is what was originally happening.”
All of the time that John and his family have devoted to training Ajax has been worth it; the rescued dog has blossomed into a fiercely devoted companion and protector. And Ajax has already had a demonstrable and positive influence on John’s quality of life.
“Well, I certainly do a LOT more walking now!” he exclaims, noting the big dog’s active nature. “He looks forward to his walks and goes totally crazy running around the house whenever he sees one of us pick up his leash.”
Ajax’s enthusiasm for exercise has forced John to be active even when he did not feel up to the task. After all, one of the veteran’s inspirations for adopting a dog was to encourage him to exercise more – and it is working.
“The mobility range of my leg has improved,” John observes, “and overall I feel healthier.”
Workout buddy, official lovebug and toy destroyer
Since joining John’s family, Ajax has earned the nickname “lovebug,” because he “just loves being loved!”
In addition to taking many walks and reveling in simply being adored, Ajax is especially fond of uncovering the weaknesses of new toys and then chewing them to pieces.
“One of his favorite things is destroying supposedly indestructible dog toys, eight of them in the first month alone, much to the amusement of all of us,” John says. “He is really smart and will just keep working on one area of the toy, slowly turning it in his paws to get to the right spot, before starting the chewing.”
John and his family take the toy destruction in stride since Ajax has not chewed anything valuable, and seems content to simply shred his new toys to pieces.
“[We] have a lot of fun with friendly bets on how long each toy [we] get him will last.”
With time, love and patience all things are possible
Like many dogs, Ajax has developed a few bad habits that will require ongoing training to correct. Sadly, this is a responsibility that often proves to be too daunting for some adopters, and dogs like Ajax find themselves stuck in the shelter system. Although he was twice surrendered, the rescue dog is one of the lucky ones: he finally found his forever home.
John and his family were more than up to the challenge, however. They have been working patiently with Ajax since bringing him into their lives.
“We have taken longer than usual to train him into our family,” John explains, “simply because he had already been returned to the shelter twice before, and it took him almost a month to realize that he now has a permanent home.”
Ajax is proving to be worthy of his family’s devotion, and John is not short of wonderful words to describe his newest charge.
“How best to describe him… Adorable, loyal, protective,” he says, “Especially with my wife, when he will growl and ‘guard’ her from anyone on their walks. Again, something we are working on, with treats for good behavior.”
John knew that Ajax would be a work in progress – and that he was worth the commitment.
“We knew he was intelligent when we first got him. We also knew he had numerous issues to work through. With time and patience, he is getting through them. He tries so hard to please us,” he says, adding, “Ajax completes our family.”
How does your cat or dog made your family complete?