James Pack, a 58-year-old man from Newark, Delaware, had to face the heart-breaking reality that he couldn’t keep his beloved dogs after suffering a serious heart attack. And when none of his family members had the means to look after his pets, his only option was to surrender them to the First State Animal Center and SPCA in nearby Camden.
He’d adopted the dogs from two separate litters when they were both just eight weeks old. At the time of his illness, Blaze was about to turn three, while Bailey was on the verge of his second birthday. On September 25, 2015, animal control picked Bailey and Blaze up for safe keeping after the veteran was taken to hospital following his heart attack.
Dogs were usually kept at the center for five days. But despite wanting to get his pets back more than anything, Pack was in no fit state to reclaim them. So the shelter eventually held them for 20 days, before opting to put them up for adoption. The staff there made the decision after being told that Pack might not survive his illness.
Pack and his Labrador-pitbull mix puppies were separated for 90 days in all while he received treatment. His hospital stay took longer than anticipated when he suffered an infection following his surgery. As a result, the left side of his body became paralyzed for a period.
“He didn’t have anybody to care for his two dogs, so he had to surrender them,” Lindsay Carrothers, from the Camden SPCA, told the Delaware State News. She went on to say that even though Pack could hardly talk, he would still call up to see how the dogs were. Carrothers added that both dogs were “adorable” and that Pack has “them trained to a T.”
Yet despite the two animals being so well behaved, they still didn’t catch the eye of any prospective dog owners. They were consequently taken to the SPCA’s adoption center, which is located at a PetSmart store in nearby Dover. And having recovered somewhat from his illness, Pack went to be reunited with his dogs at the Dover center.
“It was an emotional reunion,” Lindsay Carrothers recalled. “He was emotional. The dogs were excited to see him. It was completely heart touching. Everybody cried.” And Melissa Eagle, one of the staff at the First State Animal Center, happened to be transporting another dog at the time. Eagle saw Pack with his dogs and was taken aback by how in awe he was. Pack sat with them on the floor as the animals licked him and went crazy with happiness.
It was during this tear-filled reunion, moreover, that Pack revealed that he’d found somewhere to live – and it was dog-friendly. Because Bailey and Blaze had been surrendered for possible adoption, however, he was required to pay a $210 fee in order to reclaim his dogs.
And Pack didn’t have the money. But after spending some time with his puppies, before leaving Pack put down a deposit. He promised to return with the cash to retrieve his dogs, even if he had to sell his car to do so. “I was going to the scrapyard to scrap my car,” he later revealed.
Fortunately for Mr Pack, Christmas came early in the form of Melissa Eagle. She has worked in various positions for the center and now takes care of transportation for animal control. And Eagle suggested that the staff should pitch together to help reunite Pack with his pack.
In fact, one of the volunteers, Chris Malec, went ahead and paid the adoption fee. Others, meanwhile, chipped in with new dog toys, food, treats and gift cards. The team consisted of Malec, Eagle, Carrothers, Linda Palmer, Shannon Garrett, Laura Allen, Melinda Santiago and her husband, who all banded together to surprise Pack that same afternoon.
They also created a gofundme page to open up donations to the public. And the story soon went viral, with the page raising half of their goal in just 24 hours. The total quickly reached $7,035, in fact, $2,000 more than their target. So the team closed down the page after giving heartfelt thanks to all of the donators.
What’s more, they recorded the entire exchange on video. And that included capturing the moment when Pack’s deposit was handed back to him. Initially, he raises his hand to his mouth, under the impression that he’s being informed that he can’t get his dogs back.
Lindsay Carrothers was quick to reassure him that yes, he was getting his dogs, but his money was being rejected because of all the donations from the staff and volunteers. Pack kissed his hand and lifted it towards the sky, saying, “This is unbelievable. Thank you.”
And when Pack was finally reunited with Bailey and Blaze, his disbelief turned to joy. Bailey barked and covered Pack in kisses, while Blaze pressed against his much-missed owner and got a few licks in, too. “I don’t think there was a dry eye,” Carrothers said about the touching reunion.
And the Vietnam veteran was also sent home with his arms full of donated goods. “This is a miracle,” he later said. “After 90 days I figured they would be gone.” He added that the dogs are settling into their new home well, and that “I let them stay in bed with me last night, until they pushed me onto the floor.”
Wanting to spoil them a little upon their reunion, he decided to let the dogs have the bed on their first night home and moved to the couch. But not wanting to be separated from him after so long apart, both dogs joined him there.
Now Pack, a veteran with a construction management degree, has had to leave his work as a tractor driver because of his heart condition. But after his recent medical emergency, he learned about the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs and the federal Veterans Affairs resources available to him. And these include being provided with the necessary training to embark on a new career.
Pack said that he “had no idea at the time that Veterans could help,” thinking back to when he was looking for somewhere to live prior to his hospital stay. Back then he had even considered taking the drastic step of living in his car with the two dogs.
With the story going viral, the team at PetSmart meeting their funding goal in just two days and the heartwarming reunion video being posted online, Bailey and Blaze were invited to appear on Fox & Friends in New York. And you can see why – what a wonderful reunion story it is.