It takes a special person to love a special needs pet, as one Air Force veteran learned when he fell in love with a older, deaf and nearly toothless shelter dog.
Vernon’s father was a retired Sergeant First Class in the United States Army. He used to say that there were only two absolute loves in the world: the love a parent has for their child and the unconditional love a dog has for his guardian. Vernon is experiencing the joy of being a parent to the fullest, having relocated to the Virginia Beach area with his daughters following his retirement from the Air Force.
“We have vacationed at Virginia Beach for years so the move just made sense,” he says, adding that his family has really taken to the area’s lifestyle.
Vernon now works for the Navy at Norfolk Naval Base and jokes that no one should tell his “Air Force family.”
In 2014, Vernon retired after a long and storied military career. Over the course of his 22 years in military service he has served with the U.S. Strategic Command, the U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Marine Corps Forces – Pacific, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
“I have only great things to say about my Army, Navy and Marine Corps brothers and sisters,” Vernon says. “All of us that have served have met people that have made impacts in our lives, or we have had assignment that was so amazing that we still talk about that ‘one time in Osan.’”
Vernon recalls his time serving as an Enlisted Aide at the the U.S. Pacific Command with a particular fondness. Not only was he based out of Hawaii, but the experience affected him in a positive way.
“Being an Enlisted Aide and being around other Enlisted Aides shaped me into the Senior NCO I became.”
Although Vernon enjoys being retired, he confesses there are times that he misses putting on his uniform. Thanks to a fellow officer, he has come to appreciate that he still has much to give even though he is no longer serving in the military.
“I am now learning that I can still make a difference as a retired member. I learned from my mentor CMSgt. Juan Lewis that we never stop guiding and teaching – retirement is only the beginning.”
Scruffy deaf dog steals the day…and Vernon’s heart
Vernon admits that he had no intention of adopting a companion pet when he walked into a Virginia Beach pet store to buy some supplies.
“We just went to PetSmart to get some mulch for our turtles and that’s when I saw that scruffy, skinny, little dog named Romeo being led into the store for adoption day,” he says. “To say he stole my heart is an understatement.”
Romeo was an eight year-old deaf dog who had been brought to the store’s adoption center by the Virginia Beach SPCA. The organization is a Pets for Patriots adoption and veterinary partner, offering discounted pet adoptions and access to its low-cost, full-service veterinary clinic to veterans who adopt eligible dogs and cats through our partnership.
Despite Romeo’s appearance and disabilities – or perhaps because of them – the Air Force veteran was smitten.
“I sat down on the floor and that little man came over and say on my lap,” Vernon says. “He was old and deaf and he was missing almost all his teeth, but there was something about him.”
Vernon left the store with his mulch, but without Romeo. For the next two weeks he looked at the little dog’s online profile on the Virginia Beach SPCA website. He just could not get this special dog out of his mind. All the while Vernon’s daughter was begging him to look at the adoptable cats, so the family paid another visit to the shelter. While his daughter was looking at cats, Vernon wandered over to the kennels.
“I really didn’t think he was going to be there,” he says, adding that he was pleasantly surprised to find the dog still there. “I asked if I could hold him and that was it. I filled out the required paperwork and brought home Romeo on Veterans Day.”
Putting the ‘special’ in special needs
Life with Romeo as part of the family is nothing short of delightful. The dog is deaf and going blind in one eye, yet has nothing but love for everyone he meets. The special needs pup has even had an unexpected impact on Vernon.
“I smile a lot more every day I get to witness this little dog transform from a scared frail dog into a strong confident dog,” he says.
Part of what makes the little dog so lovable is that his physical disabilities do not hold him back. Romeo loves going for rides to the beach in Vernon’s truck, and adores being the center of attention at home.
“My daughter celebrated her fifteenth birthday recently, but really it was ‘hold Romeo day.’ I had some friends over to watch Ultimate Fighting Competition, but really it was ‘feed Romeo snacks day,'” Vernon says with a smile in his voice. “This little man delights everyone that comes in contact with him; he truly loves being loved.”
Vernon confides that he is a changed man for having adopted Romeo, even though had no intention of adopting a pet on that fateful day when he went to buy mulch for his turtles. He and the little old, scruffy, deaf dog have formed an indelible bond of mutual love – and need.
“He knows he is loved and I swear I can see it in eyes that he needed me as much as I needed him,” says Vernon. “Romeo is my buddy; he is the sweetest dog.”
Father knows best
Vernon could have adopted Romeo without our involvement, but made a conscious choice to join our companion pet adoption program for veterans.
“I chose Pets for Patriots mainly because of the success stories,” he says, adding, “I am not a wounded vet, and reading about how this organization has helped our injured brothers and sisters by helping them get a pet is enough for me to be involved.”
The Air Force veteran describes his own experience as “amazing,” in large part due to the ongoing outreach and follow up we conduct to see how he and Romeo were getting along. Our goal is to ensure permanent adoptions, and to help where we can to address issues that may arise so that we can prevent a pet from being returned to the shelter.
“Pets for Patriots isn’t an adopt and forget organization. This is an organization that truly cares not only about the pets, but equally about the service member who does the adopting,” he says. “Pets for Patriots is a first class organization.”
Vernon has come to realize that his father’s sage counsel was right. Several months after the Air Force veteran adopted Romeo, Vernon’s father passed away.
“Now that I have Romeo, I have both loves in my life and he was right,” he says. “Thank you and rest in peace, Dad.”