Ending a multi-decade career can be tough. One veteran airman found that a rescue dog saved him from the loneliness and boredom that plagued him after he retired from the workforce, and helped him honor the memory of a recently departed pet.
Airman’s dream career
Charles worked hard his entire life.
The father of three served in the United States Air Force for more than 30 years before retiring to part-time jobs. Major surgery led to his full retirement, and he currently gets around with the help of a motorized wheelchair.
It was 1969 when Charles enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard, fresh out of high school. Several years later, in 1973, he became a full-time technician. Deployments took him all over the world – including to Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, France and Turkey – before he eventually retired as an E-9 aircraft maintenance supervisor.
Charles describes his career as nothing short of a dream.
“I had always heard that if you like your job, you never work a day in your life,” he says. “I can honestly say that working on and around military aircraft was a dream come true for me, for all thirty-six years.”
After nearly four decades of service, the retired airman now resides in rural Tennessee where he spends time with his three grandchildren and tinkers with his 1986 Corvette.
To honor a fallen four-legged friend
Charles always had a soft spot for dogs, especially rescues. He had a special relationship with his beloved rescue, Munchie, until the dog died from a spinal stroke after 12 too-short years.
“I have loved all my pets, but Munchie and I had a very special bond. I felt, in his honor, another rescue was in order,” Charles shares, adding that following Munchie’s loss he was experiencing “a bad case of lonely.”
Studies have shown that elderly people with companion pets are more than one-third less likely to report loneliness than people without a pet in their lives. Despite having a loving wife, three children and an equal number of grandchildren, Charles felt something was missing when Munchie passed away.
As luck would have it, Charles has a good friend who volunteers at Blount County Animal Shelter, one of hundreds of shelters, rescues and municipal animal controls nationwide that partner with Pets for Patriots to help the most overlooked shelter animals find hope and a home with military veterans.
To ease the financial costs associated with pet guardianship, we partner with veterinarians in the communities we serve to deliver a minimum 10% discount for the life of the adopted pet’s care, and provide access to additional discounts on pet food, toys and essential supplies.
Interested, but not ready, the retired airman decided that when the time was right he would head down to the shelter to find his new best friend.
“I think she adopted me”
Charles reminisces about how he adopted – or rather, was adopted by – a frightened little shelter dog.
“I will never forget how Sophie adopted me.”
Named Sandy at the time, Sophie was a five year-old Chihuahua mix when she came to the Blount County Animal Shelter. Terrified of everyone and everything in her surroundings, she was completely unresponsive to Charles when he visited her at the shelter one Wednesday afternoon.
“She was so scared she would not even come out of her cage, even for a treat,” he says.
Charles returned to the shelter that following weekend, intent on finding a dog. The veteran entered the reception area, unaware that Sophie had decided to venture out of her kennel and sit on a volunteer’s lap in a chair alongside the front desk.
Then something quite unexpected happened.
“When she saw me sit down she came over and climbed in my lap,” Charles says, “so I think she adopted me.”
The Air Force veteran signed the adoption contract and never looked back.
Who adopted whom
The once terrified little dog is now completely at home with her veteran.
“Sophie is my constant companion,” Charles says. “She loves laying beside me in my recliner, getting a belly rub while watching T.V.”
“My wife says that if I lave to go to the store she paces and whines, or lays and looks out the window,” he says. “I have never had a more dedicated friend.”
Charles repays Sophie’s love with a little spoiling, something every pet deserves. He recently bought her a new red collar with silver paw prints, and a new tag that reads, “who adopted whom” – and decided that “it couldn’t be more appropriate.”
The staff at the Blount County Animal Shelter has already paired several “last-chance” companion pets with veterans through our program, but believes that this may be their most perfect match to date. Charles is inclined to agree, and offers advice for other military veterans who may wonder if a companion pet adoption is right for them.
“There is nothing better than looking into your pet’s eyes and seeing the unconditional love they have for you,” he says, “and a rescued pet seems to be even more loving.”
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the rescuer and the rescued; arguably person and pet each fill those roles interchangeably. And Charles does not hesitate for a moment when reflecting on what he loves most about his little Sophie.
“I love having her sitting on the console while I work on the Vette, and curling up in bed at night and petting her while watching T.V.,” he says. “There is nothing more relaxing.”
Sophie has come a long way from her days in the shelter, cowering in her kennel and unwilling to accept the kindness of strangers. For his part, Charles is a new man – no longer lonely, and certainly never alone, especially since one of Sophie’s greatest joys is riding with her veteran on his wheelchair. Charles tries to put it all into words.
“They need us as much as we need them,” he says. “I just can’t describe what joy a loving pet can bring.”