Typically we think of people adopting pets, but often it is the other way around. So it was with one San Diego stray dog who adopted a Navy veteran as his own, and who now enjoys island life in Hawaii with his new military family.
Service at heart
In 2007, Tracey began her eight-year career as a Seabee at Port Hueneme in Southern California. Military life felt natural to Tracey, who had gown up in a Navy household.
“It wasn’t any different from being at home,” she says. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Tracey worked as a construction electrician for the duration of her eight years in the service and loved the physical nature of her role. However, what she loved most about serving was her involvement in charity work. She found working with Habitat for Humanity particularly gratifying and was able to put her considerable skills to use.
Over the course of her military service Tracey deployed to Japan, as well as several Individual Augmentee (IA) deployments, wherein sailors leave their designated command to deploy individually or as part of a small group.
Cats and crawdads, but no canines
Tracey had learned about Pets for Patriots from a brochure at her local municipal animal shelter around the same time that she laid to rest her beloved Pekingese.
Devastated at the loss, the Navy veteran and her young son, Astian, headed to the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services to find another pet friend to love. The shelter has been one of our adoption partners since 2011 and offers deeply discounted dog and cat adoptions to veterans in our program.
Ironically, Tracey never had dogs growing up; her mother did not like them. The family had cats, rabbits, lizards, hamsters, crawdads and a praying mantis. Now that she had a family of her own, however, Tracey wanted a dog. For her, adoption was the only option.
“I wanted to adopt,” she explains, adding that she does not like buying pets from breeders.
Picked by the paw
Upon arrival at the shelter Tracey and Astian selected a few large dogs to meet and greet. The Navy veteran was a single mother at the time and knew she wanted a larger dog for protection.
All of the dogs proceeded to smell around the fenced meeting area, except for one peculiar dog named Rodger. Despite his visible timidity, the shepherd/retriever mix approached the pair right away – and at that moment they knew he was the one.
“He chose us,” Tracey remembers.
Tracy describes how Rodger was the perfect mix: she wanted a larger, yet child-friendly dog, one who was big enough to play with yet old enough to not require a lot of additional training. Rodger fit the bill, despite him having been found as a stray with no known history.
Aiden swiftly renamed the then two year-old dog Shooter, who now has four years worth of adoption anniversaries under his collar. Tracey has since married a Marine and the entire family – Shooter included – has been relocated to Hawaii by the military.
The Seabee and the sea-loving dog
Life with Shooter has been nothing short of joyful.
“It’s a comforting feeling when we get home,” Tracey shares, “He just seems really happy. In the shelter he looked so sad.”
The Navy veteran confesses that Shooter is now “very spoiled.” Her family has since adopted another dog who has become Shooter’s best buddy, aptly named Bullet. The duo dote on Tracey every chance they get.
“If I sit down they think it’s a cue to come over,” she jokes.
While the transition from San Diego to Hawaii has been a challenge, the dogs have given this military family a sense of normalcy and routine.
Five mornings a week Shooter and Tracey power walk five miles together, and other days they go on scenic hikes. Yet they both miss the famous dog-friendly beaches of San Diego; the ocean is not as accessible in Hawaii as their previous home in Coronado. Still, Shooter managed to help Astian feel comfortable with one undeniable fact of island life: being surrounded by water.
Shooter’s love for the ocean helped Tracey’s son overcome his fear of the water. Watching him jump into the waves with such ease and enthusiasm gave Astian the courage to join in on the fun.
“He’s an extremely loyal family dog,” Tracey says.
Stray dog adopts Navy family and gets so much more
This once stray dog chose wisely when he picked this Navy family, who cherishes him for his native sweetness.
“He’s very compassionate, he listens, he doesn’t eat through my entire house like some other dogs would,” Tracy says, laughing. “He’s my fun-favorite and best friend.”
Tracey chose to adopt through Pets for Patriots because we serve active and separated military, recognize the challenges they face, and know how the right companion pet can make life better for person and pet alike.
“They were very helpful, and very military friendly and understanding,” she says. “I’d recommend them to everybody.”
Tracey loves Shooter to bits, and appreciates our mission to make companion pet adoption affordable and sustainable for military families like her own.
“I think it’s great that they’re getting people to adopt, when there are plenty of dogs and cats that need love.”