Since leaving the army, Chris’s days have been–well, lonely. Like many veterans, Chris missed the camaraderie and closeness of his fellow soldiers.

Chris thought perhaps a cat would be the solution, so he took a trip with his girlfriend–who lived in another state, at the time–to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay “just to browse.”

A little Puggle (Pug and Beagle mix) had other plans for Chris.

“When we passed through the kennel with the small dogs, we absolutely fell in love with Darla when she yelped at us to come see her,” he said. “She was adorable and was very distressed about being in there. I set up a meeting with her in their yard and she was extremely affectionate and friendly. We knew just then that we were going to take her home.”Prank_It_Forward_Homeless_Man_with_pet_dog-640px

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Darla, then five years old, had been surrendered by her previous family because they were unable to support her financially.

Chris and Veronica wouldn’t have to worry about that, thanks to a partnership between the shelter and a nonprofit called Pets for Patriots, an organization that helps veterans and military personnel adopt adult and special needs pets. By providing veterans with a range of benefits, pet parenthood is instantly more affordable–on an ongoing basis. Pets for Patriots has active partnerships with shelters, rescues, and animal control facilities nationwide, offering veterans discounted adoption fees, “welcome home” packages of food and collars, and continued veterinary discounts for the men and women who have served our country.

unnamed-1“There’s a mistaken impression that everyone will qualify for a service animal,” said Beth Zimmerman, Founder and Executive Director of Pets for Patriots. “But for most veterans, a companion pet can be just as therapeutic, and even life-saving.”

Darla quickly became a four-legged battle buddy for the decorated veteran. For her part, the little dog has taken well to her new life, including ditching her own bed to sleep under the blankets with Chris.

No longer lonely, Chris takes Darla to the dog park to stretch her legs every morning, and the two spend the rest of the day together until Veronica gets home. A typical day consists of sniffing absolutely everything, giving dirty looks to skateboarders, and keeping an eye out for the local pet store, which she recognizes instantly as one of her favorite places to go. Darla refuses to be left alone in any room, ever, and thus has become great at helping out with the laundry.

Chris one day hopes to open his own bar and grill, with uniforms that sport Darla’s picture, but whatever the young Army veteran decides to do, Darla will have his back.Bernese mountain dog in ocean-KTLAvideo

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“The loyalty and affection she gives me can make any day so much better,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how mad, irritated or stressed out I am, because once I walk through that door she makes everything go away and helps me to relax. She helps me keep my head up.”

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