News Stories

Saving each other: DINFOS staff members find joy in rescuing animals

By Coast Guard Seaman Travis G. Magee | Defense Information School | August 23, 2016

FORT MEADE, Md. --

On an unusually warm December day in 2015, Katie Walsh walked eagerly with her husband toward Howl to the Chief, a pet supply store in Washington, D.C., that was hosting a dog adoption event. Walsh instantly recognized the dog she had seen online and planned to adopt. She was Mustard, a hound-mix with brown and black patches surrounding innocent eyes. Walsh was excited to finally meet Mustard and walk her for the first time.

“I was like, ‘We are going to get this dog, and it is going to be great,’” Walsh said. “Then I took Mustard for a walk, and she was scared of me.”

Like an online date gone bad, the connection didn’t happen.

“I kind of had it in my heart that I was going to have this moment where the dog looked at me, and I looked at the dog, and everything was great, but it really didn’t happen, and I was really disappointed,” Walsh said.

At the end of another leash, on her hind legs, stood Ren, a black mutt with large pointy ears, who appeared to be a Boston terrier mix. Walsh, struck by her cuteness, asked to walk Ren.

“She didn’t pull, and she was really sweet,” Walsh said. “As I kneeled down, she came over to me and put her little paws on my knee and licked me in the face. I said, ‘Aww. This is our dog. This is the dog we’re taking home.’”

Walsh, a Content Management Course instructor in the public affairs department at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, is among the staff members at DINFOS who have found adopting animals to be a rewarding experience.

JoAnn Anderson, the academic director of the public affairs department, is another.

Anderson has always loved animals. When she was growing up on a small farm in Pennsylvania, the closest thing she had to pets were farm animals and barn cats, but there was one animal that Anderson liked most of all: her pony. Anderson rode her pony every day and did her best to take care of her. One day, while she was at school, Anderson’s stepfather sold her pony.

“I got home off the bus, and she was gone,” Anderson said.

Though she was devastated by the experience, she continued to love animals and want one of her own.

Anderson had always considered herself a dog person, but after she joined the Navy in 1999, she had a hard time finding an apartment that allowed dogs. In 2003, while Anderson was still single and stationed at Fort Meade, her roommate convinced her to adopt a cat.

“I didn’t really know if I was a cat person because my barn cats didn’t let me pet them,” Anderson said. “At first, I was like, ‘A cat?’”

Anderson agreed and came back with two cats: Roxie and Moonlight.

After Anderson got married in 2006, Roxie and Moonlight adjusted well to the new family.

In 2009, while at his brother-in-law’s hunting cabin in the woods of Pennsylvania, Anderson’s husband, Gary, found a cat that tugged at his heartstrings.

“This cat, with hardly any meat on her bones, came up to him,” Anderson said. “When they woke up the next morning, she was still outside of the door. She waited all night in the rain.”

Gary asked Anderson if he could bring the cat, now named Patches, home and she said, “Yes.”

Patches was shy at first.

“If we were in the living room watching television, she would hide in

the kitchen and watch us,” Anderson said. “One time I fell asleep on the couch, and when I woke up, she was on the pillow beside me. It melted my heart because I was like, ‘She’s not scared anymore.’”

Much like Anderson, Walsh has always loved animals. Since she was a little girl, she knew she wanted a dog. She remembers rolling around with her aunt’s dogs, a German shepherd, a yellow lab and two mutts, to which she attributes her longing for a furry friend.

“There’s a really cute video of me as a toddler saying, ‘The doggy wicked my weg!’” Walsh said, laughing.

Walsh recalled asking Santa Claus for a puppy every year.

When Walsh was about 11, her parents finally bought Walsh her first dog, Petey, a Lhasa apso, in Cincinnati. By 2010, Petey had suffered many ailments due to his old age, and Walsh’s family decided the best option was to put him down, she said.

“It was time,” Walsh said. “He wasn’t happy.”

After Walsh graduated from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she found it hard to find an apartment that allowed dogs.

It wasn’t until Walsh was married and she and her husband, Ryan, purchased a home in November of 2015, in Washington, that she was finally able to adopt a dog of her own. On Dec. 17, 2015, after only 24 days in their new house, Walsh and her husband had already adopted Ren.

Though Walsh was thrilled to have a dog in her life again, she forgot how much work one could be.

“The first month or two was difficult because she did not come housebroken,” Walsh said. “The very first night we got her, she was doing really good, then right around 9:30 p.m, she just took a big pee on the carpet.

“She peed in our bed twice,” Walsh said. “The second time I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know about this dog.’”

Nonetheless, the Walshes remained committed to Ren’s well-being. She got three walks every day, including one in the morning, one for an hour in the evening and one more at night.

“Being a dog owner is a lot of work,” Walsh said. “It’s also really rewarding because they just love you so much, and I love her back. I kiss her on the face all the time.”

To Walsh, the most rewarding part of adopting Ren was giving her a home.

“I wanted to do my tiny, little part in the world where I could save a dog,” said Walsh, with tears building in her eyes. “I knew that I could love a dog and I could be a good dog mom.”

When Walsh reflected on how important Ren’s foster family had been to her newly found happiness, she decided to take another step.

“I just really appreciated that Ren had a place to be,” she said. “For me, knowing that Ren got that chance, I wanted to give that chance to somebody else.”

On July 10, Walsh and her husband began fostering Ginger, a retriever-beagle mix. Walsh fell in love with Ginger and began to dread the idea of losing her.

“Every time I was taking her to these adoption events, it was pure hell for me,” she said.

One night in early August, Ryan Walsh came home from work, greeted the dogs, and walked over to his wife.

“He said, ‘So, I think we should adopt Ginger,’” she recalled. “I went, ‘Really?’ ”

It turned out he had been researching the benefits of having two dogs, and he meant what he said about Ginger.

“He was really cute because he kept looking at her and being like, ‘You get to stay.’ ”

The dogs have been happy, and keeping their owners happy, ever since.

“There’s never really a bad day when they’re around,” Walsh said.

In the summer of 2015, Anderson received a text message from Gary, who was visiting his family in Alabama. The text had a picture of a Yorkie named Bella, whom Gary’s mother had rescued, with long hair and pointy ears along with a message that read, “She’s yours if you want her.” Anderson, who had wanted a dog for a long time, said, “Yes.”

“He brought her home from Alabama, but he also brought back another cat,” Anderson said.

The cat’s name was Eep, and Anderson soon realized that he was the same kitten she had met three months before in Alabama when she bottle fed the then-newborn Eep.

“Everyone was saying that I was the only one who could get him to eat,” Anderson said.

Anderson quickly bonded with Bella.

“I’m a hard-core dog person now,” Anderson said. “She’s my baby.”

By owning five animals, Anderson has faced challenges including an abundance of cat hair, medical costs and ensuring Bella receives enough attention throughout the day.

“I want to take her everywhere with me,” Anderson said. “I would have her at work if I was allowed to.”

Still, Anderson said she has benefited from adopting her animals, especially Bella, because of an emptiness she has felt in her own life. Doctors have told Anderson that it is unlikely that she will ever be able to have children.

“I have always wanted a baby, so when I couldn’t get pregnant, it was very devastating for me,” Anderson said. “I already had my cats at that point, but dogs are different.”

“I think it helps fill that void, like I feel like her mamma. So it helps with that need to take care of something.”