In 2013 Jo Jo was a death row dog in need of a miracle. The now blind dog met Hugh, a Vietnam veteran who was – and remains – his savior.
Mark Twain once said that “kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” If this is true then Jo Jo sees it all despite having lost sight in both of his eyes.
Several years ago the Chihuahua mix was slated for death at a Florida shelter. His previous neglect was severe. He was emaciated and half of his teeth had rotted from decay.
With so many animals in need of a home it is particularly difficult for dogs like Jo Jo to be adopted. But on that January day in 2013 his fortunes changed forever. With them changed the life of the Vietnam veteran who saw value in this little dog’s life.
“Jo Jo needed us in a special way. He had lived in a trailer with 31 other dogs and his nutrition was feces,” Hugh recalls. “He was so little and weak he couldn’t get to whatever food there was.”
A vigilant person reported the animal cruelty to the authorities and animal control brought all of the dogs to local animal shelters. Jo Jo ended up at Lake City Humane Society, one of our original shelter partners.
“We all know what happens to the weaker ones,” Hugh says of dogs like Jo Jo.
At the time, Hugh’s granddaughter worked at Lake City Humane Society as a veterinary technician. She urged Hugh and his wife, Linda, to come down to the shelter, and told them about our partnership with them.
If he qualified, Hugh could adopt Jo Jo and have the adoption fee waived. The Vietnam veteran took his granddaughter’s advice to heart and went to the shelter.
“We did and we just connected,” Hugh says of meeting Jo Jo. “Love him to pieces.”
Life after the Vietnam War
Hugh is recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a debilitating and progressive nervous system disorder. He admits that it has slowed him down a little, but he remains committed to the ragtag pack of pets he and Linda have acquired over the years.
“We have a couple of older horses, 32 and 33 years old,” he says. “We have four cats that we rescued and six dogs, all rescues. Our dogs are getting older right along with me and my wife.”
For Hugh, the couple’s pets are his therapy. In the 1960’s he served with the Army in Vietnam. Hugh’s wartime experiences are a vivid contrast to the loving and peaceful life he now leads.
Still, decades later, some awful memories endure.
“That was rough,” he shares, before recalling a particularly harrowing experience in An Khe Pass. “I was in a ditch laying on a board, trying not to make a sound,” he says, “and rats were crawling on my chest.”
Blind dog sees with his heart what his eyes cannot
Even as memories of the war linger, time has marched on.
Long since retired, Hugh still lives in Florida and together with his wife enjoys their family – two- and four-legged. And while Jo Jo continues to deliver his special brand of joy, over a period of several months Hugh noticed that his ex-death row dog was losing his vision.
“JoJo’s been blind now for a few months,” Hugh says. “He has cataracts, and it happened almost overnight. We’re devastated.”
Hugh and Linda took Jo Jo to the veterinarian. The blind dog is in otherwise good health and likely a candidate for eye surgery.
“The surgery is kinda expensive and we are trying to get my little buddy’s eyesight back, even if it’s just one eye,” Hugh says.
Pets for Patriots maintains a hero fund to help pets adopted through our program receive life extending, life saving, and palliative care that is beyond the financial means of the veterans who saved them. Jo Jo is a possible candidate for such support.
Restoring some vision to the now blind dog would mean the world to Hugh, and of course to Jo Jo as well.
“I just love him,” the Vietnam veteran says. “He can be cantankerous, but just to see the fight in him from day to day as he has – and is – adjusting to his blindness is overwhelming. He runs into things from time to time, but we try not to move anything around.”
“Never be lonely again”
Despite Jo Jo’s vision loss, Hugh has no regrets having spared the now blind dog the ultimate fate. Although the little dog has some “digestive issues” – likely owing to his first four years of neglect and cruelty – the pint-sized pup has a big appetite.
Jo Jo is larger than life in other ways, as well.
“He’s little and can be loud,” Hugh says. “He’s happy, weighs 4.9 pounds and loves me awful!”
Whether Jo Jo’s sight can be restored, in whole or part, remains to be explored. But Hugh has a message for other veterans who wonder whether a companion pet would enhance their lives.
“Do it!” he exclaims. “Never be lonely again. It’s good to give back, and these animals need us to care for them. The love they give back is never ending [and] they just want us to love them! What a blessing!!”