Special needs animals are among the most overlooked for adoption, and this was particularly the case for a triply-disabled dog in a Virginia shelter. Luckily for this pup, a retired Coast Guard veteran – or “Coastie” – was up to the challenge.
Serving at sea
Starting with his enlistment in 1987 and for 24 subsequent years, Mark was ‘always ready‘ as a member of the United States Coast Guard (USCG). He became a Coastie for simple and compelling reasons.
“I joined to serve my country,” he says, “and work at sea.”
Mark was initially stationed in New Bedford, Massachusetts aboard a USCG cutter, and was subsequently stationed in New Haven, Connecticut, Yorktown and Portsmouth, Virginia, and Paducah, Kentucky. But Mark’s most memorable experiences were aboard the polar ice breaker Healy, stationed out of Seattle, Washington.
“I loved my time on the Healy,” he explains, “because it allowed me to work with many scientists and oceanographers, and [I] worked in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean to do it.”
Mark describes his many years of military service as “very fulfilling,” adding that he “felt privileged” to do the jobs assigned to him. And he did many interesting and important jobs over the course of his 24-year career.
“I navigated ships, regulated commercial ships, controlled pollution and responded to oil spills, was a weather forecaster, and an oceanographer on the Healy,” he says.
Although separated from service since 2011, the retired Coastie still has the lure of the sea coursing through his veins. He currently repairs ships for the United States Navy.
Three strikes, you’re in
Mark lives in Virginia with his wife, Terri. Their three college-age children are out of the house, and the Coast Guard veteran admits that he and Terri are enjoying their new status as empty nesters.
The couple’s otherwise tranquil life was shattered recently following the death of their beloved Shiba Inu, Bear. Some time after Bear’s death, Mark’s daughters convinced him to adopt another dog. Terri agreed that it would be a good idea.
Fortunately for Mark, Pets for Patriots has multiple shelter and veterinary partners near his Virginia home to assist with both reduced-cost companion pet adoption and discounted post-adoption care. It was at one of those partners, Virginia Beach SPCA, where the retired Coastie and his wife fell in love with an “adorable” dog, named Alex at the time.
Despite his relatively young age, Alex – a Lhasa Apso mix – has many challenges: a low-grade heart murmur, one eye that was removed surgically, and epilepsy. The shelter dog’s multiple disabilities made him an extremely hard-to-adopt pet, despite the fact that he was only a year old, a relatively popular mix, and a small dog – which are typically in great demand.
Mark was undaunted. The Coast Guard veteran adopted Alex and brought his new best friend home.
Disabled dog “puts a smile on my heart”
It was not exactly smooth sailing when Mark and Terri first brought Alex home, whom they renamed Charlie. He was recovering from surgery to remove several teeth, had kennel cough and – like many newly adopted pets – had the occasional “accident” in the house. In time he healed, and with regular walks and more confidence in his new home, accidents became a thing of the past.
“Charlie seems very happy and we enjoy his companionship,” Mark says. “All around we are a great fit for each other.”
Caring for a disabled companion animal can be a refreshing experience because they do not know they have a disability. We may feel sorry for the things that they are unable to do, but they are unaware of any limitations. Like any other pet, all they ask is to be loved.
“He needs lots of love,” says Mark, “and we love taking care of him despite these [disabilities].”
Having loved – and lost – companion pets, Mark is a true advocate for pet adoption.
“A pet can help change a life for the better,” he says, “[and] Pets for Patriots helps make it easier.”
Although Mark’s nest is now a little less empty, he and Terri are thrilled with their newest member of the family. They are relieved that Charlie is “very obedient, and calm around our cats,” and generally has adapted to his new life.
“I’m very thankful for the Pets for Patriots program,” the Coast Guard veteran adds, “and the help it’s given me to help settle him into our home.”
Prior to adopting Charlie, Mark and his wife hoped a new dog would help them be more active. And in spite of Charlie’s physical challenges, he has proven to be up to the task. With guidance from a Pets for Patriots veterinary partner, the couple makes sure to give Charlie only as much physical activity as he can handle.
“We enjoy walks with Charlie, and he’s always doing something that we can have a great conversation about,” Mark says. “He’s very adorable and puts a smile on my heart.”