Desiree is an Army veteran who has triumphed over adversity more than once in her lifetime, including a time when she was homeless. Her inner strength and ability to persevere are qualities she shares with Bullet, an abused dog who chose the veteran above all others.
A spontaneous decision
Desiree calls her decision to join the Army one weekend in 1981 a “spontaneous decision.” She was 20 years old and “just wanted to get away and see the world.”
This impromptu career move resulted in three years of Cold War-era service as an administrative specialist – or “glorified typist,” as Desiree puts it – in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She worked in her company commander’s office and was part of a psychological operations (PSYOP) battalion that dealt with propaganda.
“Our mission was to give the enemy ample opportunities to give his life for his country,” Desiree says.
The Army veteran’s most memorable experience from her military career was successfully completing basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She remains incredibly proud of this achievement, describing herself as having been somewhat of a “spoiled brat” prior to joining the Army.
“I never in my life thought I would do anything like that,” she says. “Going through the gas chamber, taking off our masks. Low crawling under barbed wire. Walking for hours in combat boots. Push-ups – when they say drop, you drop.”
“It taught me perseverance,” she adds. “I could do anything.”
Staying Army strong, even out of the Army
Upon leaving the military, Desiree spent time living in the Azores in the middle of the Pacific Ocean while her then-husband was stationed at an Air Force base there. She was a “military housewife” for about seven years and then went on to spend two decades working in the legal field. Most recently, Desiree was a legal coordinator.
In 2011, 30 years after she first learned the art of perseverance during basic training, Desiree found herself faced with a challenge that she never expected: she became homeless while living in Washington, D.C. After her story was featured in the local news, the Veterans Administration was eventually able to help her find a place to stay.
Desiree credits her faith for helping her make it through this year of homelessness and would advise others in similar situations to “keep fighting.”
“Perseverance builds character,” she says with a touch of wisdom in her voice.
Currently retired and disabled, Desiree considers herself an “unlicensed preacher” and evangelist who advocates for veterans, and enjoys meeting people everywhere she goes. Her other passions are writing and photography.
In August of 2014, Desiree saw an article about Pets for Patriots in her local county newspaper. The article spotlighted a female veteran and her dog, and described the ways in which Pets for Patriots helps match veterans across the country with shelter dogs and cats. The story resonated instantly with Desiree, who realized that she had room in her life for a new companion.
“I live alone,” she explains.
Desiree is “not a cat person” and had a dog as a child, so she went online to look at the profiles of adoptable canines at the Prince George’s County Animal Management Division website, a municipal shelter that partners with Pets for Patriots to help veterans adopt the most overlooked companion animals in their care.
“I went online and looked at all the dogs they had [and] picked out a few already that, you know, we would be interested in,” she recalls.
But Desiree knew she would need to visit the shelter in person before making a commitment.
“They said we would know when we were there, the dog chooses you,” she says.
The Army veteran explored the shelter and looked at some of the dogs she had seen online, hoping to find “the one” who would choose her. And as fate would have it – she did.
“The last cage, there’s Bullet sitting back there, cool, like an aristocrat,” she says. “He comes up to us, says ‘hi,’ goes back and sits down.”
Desiree turned to walk away and, for no particular reason, glanced back at Bullet.
“The look on his face, I’ll never forget,” she says, describing it as a combination of “don’t leave me” and “where are you going?”
Bullet went home with Desiree that day.
From homeless to hopeful
Desiree credits Bullet with inspiring her to be a more compassionate person – and with keeping her on her toes.
“He’s an athlete,” she says. “He’s in training. He plays football, he plays soccer, he plays tug-of-war. He is something else, like a little boy. Sometimes I even call him my son’s name. He’s like a little kid. Very smart, like a little aristocrat. He doesn’t go straight for food, just looks at us like, ‘Wow, thanks.’”
Although he now loves to be stroked and hugged, when Bullet first came home with the Army veteran it was clear that he had been abused at some point in the past.
“He would protect his body as if to say, ‘I’m not going to be hurt again,’” Desiree recalls. “It took about two weeks for him to let me put my foot on him.”
His past suffering now a distant memory, Bullet has opened up and become a truly joyful presence in the Army veteran’s life.
“He’s funny, eager, energetic. So much personality,” she says, “so full of life.”
Desiree’s fiancé works in the veterinary field, and has fallen in love with Bullet as well.
“He’s like Dr. Dolittle,” she says of her partner, “loves animals, talks to animals.”
Advocating for homeless pets
Desiree is quick to rave about her adoption experience, describing the Prince George’s County shelter as a “very beautiful” and “very caring” facility, counter to misperceptions many people have about municipal shelters.
“Everyone was so kind,” she says, “everything was so smooth, so fast.”
The Prince George’s County Animal Management Division waives adoption fees for Pets for Patriots members, so Bullet’s adoption was free. Desiree received a $150 gift certificate from Pets for Patriots as well, and receives ongoing discounted veterinary care through the charity’s veterinary partners to help make caring for Bullet more affordable.
Desiree has become a great advocate and supporter of Pets for Patriots, urging everyone she knows to adopt, and even making copies of the charity’s brochure to distribute to people who may be interested.
When asked if she would advise fellow veterans to adopt companion animals through Pets for Patriots, Desiree’s response is simple: “100%.”
Like other veterans who found their new best friends through Pets for Patriots, Desiree found common cause with a companion pet whose experience echoed her own: homelessness – and the character to persevere.