Happy Stories

A Volunteer and Military Vet Find ‘Furever’ Homes for Heroic Canine Veterans

Yesterday was National Canine Veterans Day, the day we celebrate our brave, four-footed friends. These pups serve with distinction, and like all veterans, each deserves a happy retirement. Animal shelter volunteer Dawn Nickles and Army veteran Paul Oldt have made it their mission to see that these pups’ golden years are filled with love!

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The Power of Canine Veterans

Dawn Nickles’ heart went out to Asta, the Belgian Malinois cowering in her kennel, whimpering. “You could use some fresh air,” the Elysburg, Pennsylvania, real estate agent and animal shelter volunteer coaxed. But once outside, instead of running around, Asta refused to leave Dawn’s side. Her eyes pleaded: Please, please don’t leave me.

Asta was a retired military dog who had served seven years in Afghanistan. Dawn could only imagine the trauma she’d suffered.

“I can’t adopt every dog here, but I’m taking Asta home with me,” she told fellow volunteer Paul Oldt.

A retired corrections officer and Army veteran, Paul shared Dawn’s compassion for military dogs. He knew the vital work they did, and his heart ached thinking of them languishing in shelters after their service was up. And now Dawn got him thinking about something else.

“Dogs like Asta deserve to live out their days in loving homes,” Paul said. And when he shared his desire to make that happen, Dawn was immediately all-in.

“Let’s do it!” she said.

No Canine Veteran Left Behind

While Paul built kennels in his yard, Dawn began reaching out to the military and police forces, spreading the word about the newly formed Patriot K9 Rescue.

Soon they had their first retiree, a German shepherd named Cato, who had been a drug sniffing dog.

“He’s too aggressive — no one will adopt him,” Cato’s handler warned.

But after only three days of playing and being loved, Cato had already left his former life behind. And when veterinarian Christina Livingston saw an article about Patriot K9 Rescue and Cato, she took the pup in and gave him a new home.

“I once treated a bomb sniffing dog. He and his handler had both been discharged with PTSD,” she told Dawn and Paul. “Helping that dog re-socialize was so rewarding … I want to help Cato.”

To Dawn and Paul’s joy, their next dog also quickly found a home: Lynette Kulman and her German shepherd, Rugar, drove 11 hours from Michigan to adopt Inga. Inga was a nine-year-old shepherd who had served in the Middle East and had also been redflagged for aggression. But Inga and Rugar got on right from the get-go — Inga even affectionately reached out her paw to say hello to Rugar when they met. Soon, the two were romping around Lynette’s yard and snoozing curled up together, alongside her in bed.

Canine veterans Inga and Ruger, meeting for the first time
Canine veterans Inga and Ruger, meeting for the first timeLynette Kulman

As word spread, Dawn and Paul began welcoming more dogs, and they realized they needed more space. So, Paul used his retirement funds and bought land in Elysburg. He built a facility with living quarters on the second floor and climate-controlled kennels on the first.

“No dog will be left behind,“ he and Dawn vowed.

A Great New Life With Military Veterans

Adoptive families come from all backgrounds, but over half of Patriot K9 Rescue dogs go on to share their golden years with human military veterans.

Dan O’Connor trained military dogs in Vietnam, then worked with police dogs for 30 years. When his beloved cocker spaniel died, he knew his next dog would be retired military, just like him. “Polly was trained in Iraq for explosive detection,” Dan relates.

“She’d never put a paw on grass — only sand. She didn’t know how to fetch a ball. She played rough, not knowing her own strength.” Now, Dan and Polly have been together for two years. “She now plays with my cat, and once even tried making friends with a rooster!” Dan laughs.

Retired Navy mechanic Mike Brecht has formed the same loving bond with Beky. “Morning to night, Beky never leaves my side,” says Mike. “The only thing she loves more than me is her ball — she can spend hours chasing it around the yard.”

Mike Brecht and his veteran canine, Beky
Mike Brecht and his veteran canine, BekyMike Brecht

Paul and Dawn are so happy to see these pups live out the rest of their lives in peace. “And that’s the way it should be,” insists retired Colonel Jim Newborn, who adopted four-legged Afghan veteran Bo. “I’ve seen these dogs on the job in Vietnam. They save lives. Bo has served his country, he’s paid his dues and he deserves our undying gratitude.”

How To Support Canine Veterans

It has been estimated that each military dog will save upward of 150 lives during his or her career, and there are over 2,800 currently serving. They serve five to seven years, then get retired.

Show appreciation to K9 service dogs with a note! Simply email info@PawsOfHonor.org and they will send greeting cards for you to sign and mail back. The cards of gratitude will be delivered to the handlers, owners and families of retired military K9s to lift their spirits.

And Dawn and Paul are determined to make that retirement happy. So far, they’ve helped 55 canine veterans find loving homes. “It just takes finding the right person for each dog,” says Paul. “When that right person comes along, you can literally see the dog smiling from ear to ear,” adds Dawn.

“We know that dog is going to start a great new life, just like every veteran — dog or human — deserves.”

3 Easy Ways to Show Love to Military Pups

1. Donate or visit a memorial.

National Canine Veterans Day might be over, but you can still pay tribute to our hero dogs. Consider making a donation to organizations that support them, like the US War Dogs Association.

2. Visit a memorial.

Looking for another meaningful way to show your support? Take some time out of your busy week to see a memorial. Log on to US War Dogs and click War Dog Memorials to find a memorial site near you.

2. Send a card.

As mentioned above, you can join Paws of Honor to show appreciation to K9 service dogs with a note. Simply email info@PawsOfHonor.org and they will send greeting cards for you to sign and mail back. Then the cards of gratitude will be delivered to the handlers, owners, and families of retired military K9s to lift their spirits.

3. Bake up goodies!

Make homemade dog treats (find a simple recipe on YouTube) and donate them to K9s For Warriors. Mail treats to 114 Camp K9 Rd. Ponte Vedre, FL 32081. Even easier: Go to K9sForWarriors.org, click “ways to support,” then click the link to their Amazon Wish List. Add treats to your cart and place an order!

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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