James Pack was a proud dog dad to two young pups. However, when he suffered a serious heart attack at only 58 years old, he discovered that he might not be fully equipped to take care of them anymore. Pack turned to his family for help, to no avail.
Breaking His Heart
Pack tried to find a solution to help care for his dogs, but it seemed that his only option would be to give his babies up for adoption. Sadly, Pack turned to First State Animal Center and SPCA.
Weathering The Downturn
Pack had fallen on hard times after he was diagnosed with a heart condition. In the years following his Navy service during the Vietnam war, Pack studied for a degree in construction management, assuming that it would be useful for a future career. Pack had never hesitated to work hard, but construction takes a toll on the body, and when he was no longer fit enough, he took up truck driving instead. His illness, however, meant he would need to seek alternate employment.
Pack had always been something of a loner, but at some point, he realized that he preferred the company of animals to other people. Warm and kind-hearted, Pack couldn’t help but fall in love the moment he saw Blaze, who was only eight weeks old when they first met. He had long wanted to a adopt a dog and knew that Blaze would be the perfect thing to liven up his home. He and the Labrador Pitbull mix became nearly inseparable.
Growing His Pack
When the woman from whom he’d adopted Blaze called him a year later, Pack tried to brush off his longing for yet another dog, but found himself compelled to go meet the newest litter. As he drove up to meet the puppies with Blaze panting by his side in the passenger seat, Pack bristled with anticipation. He hadn’t really considered getting a second dog, as he had never been particularly well off, but Blaze brought such joy to his life, he couldn’t resist adopting Bailey.
Taken Into Care
When James Pack found awoke in an unfamiliar hospital room, his thoughts were only on what had happened to his dogs. Though he didn’t know right away, shortly after he was transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital, the local animal control was dispatched by the SPCA in order to take Pack’s beloved Blaze and Bailey into their care. It was late September in 2015, and Blaze was almost three, making Bailey nearly two. The dogs would be kept for no more than five days.
The SPCA took pity on the veteran Pack, whose ailing health had not improved even five days after his hospitalization. The scale of his heart attack had seen Pack rushed into emergency surgery, but his recovery didn’t exactly go as doctors had expected. Day after day passed, and Pack was still in no state to pick up his dogs from the SPCA. After 20 days, doctors shared with the volunteers at the shelter that Pack ha contracted an infection and his recovery was uncertain.
A Tough Call
The staff at First State Animal Center and SPCA had a difficult decision to make. They had kept Blaze and Bailey with them for far longer than they had ever kept any other dogs, but Pack was still in serious condition, having contracted an infection during his hospital stay post surgery. With heavy hearts, they decided it would probably be best to try and find new families for both Blaze and Bailey, hoping still that the lonely veteran still had a fighting chance.
Turning A Corner
In the course of his illness, Pack even suffered a temporary paralysis of his left side, but the moment he regained consciousness, he began to call the SPCA shelter every day to check in on the dogs. There were many days, especially at the beginning when Pack’s speech was nearly incomprehensible, but they invariably knew why he was calling. They reassured him that his sweet dog babies were being well cared for while he was unable to do so himself.
Giving Them Up
Lindsay Carrothers a staff member at the Camden, Delaware SPCA told the Delaware State News, “He didn’t have anybody to care for his two dogs, so he had to surrender them.” Though he had extreme difficulty talking, hearing news about his dogs cheered his mood, likely aiding his recovery. Carrothers went on to say that she always reassured him that his dogs were behaving. “They are super adorable,” she said. “He has them trained to a T.”
The Toll Of Separation
In total, James Pack spent full three months in the hospital, without ever getting the chance to see his dogs. The updates he frequently solicited helped, but he could only imagine that they most have been as lonely without him as he was without them. He knew the minute he was released from medical care he would head straight to the shelter to try and get them back. He just had to keep praying that the shelter would keep them if they weren’t adopted.
To Pack’s delight, his dogs hadn’t yet been adopted by the time he was released, but had been transferred to a nearby PetsMart where they would have more visibility to families looking to adopt a pet. The staff at both the SPCA shelter and at the PetsMart where surprised that such well trained dogs hadn’t yet found families, but then again, they were used to bigger dogs often being passed up in favor of slightly trendier looking dogs. Pack was ready to see his babies.
Lifting His Spirits
At the first moment he was able to, Pack drove himself to over to the PetsMart and asked to see Bailey and Blaze, explaining that he was their original owner, and that the pair had only been given up due to his illness. The employees at the PetsMart adoption center were happy to oblige. “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.”
The Angel Watching Over
Pack had more news to share with the staff during his heartfelt reunion with his furry family. He had found a place to live that would accept dogs. During his downturn, he’d worried about having a home for them and had planned to live with both dogs in his car. An SPCA employee happened to be on site in order to transfer another dog and saw Pack’s dedication to his pets. Unfortunately, Pack still needed to pay to get his dogs back.
PetSmart’s official policy was that once pets had been surrendered, they officially had to be re-adopted, which included a payment of $210. Not having worked for over three months, Pack had very little money to his name, as he had been in the process of looking for a new job when he suffered his heart attack. He pulled out his wallet and put every cent he had on the counter as a deposit, promising that he would return with the rest of it as soon as possible.
The Elves Get To Work
Pack left the store, his heart heavy, as he considered his options. Worst case scenario, he figured he could scrap his car in the junkyard for the cash. He could take the bus to work, anything to get his babies back. After all of his misfortune, however, luck was finally on Pack’s side. The SPCA employee who happened to see his heartfelt reunion was Melissa Eagle. When she saw how dedicated he was to his dogs, she knew she needed to help.
A Moment Of Despair
Pack returned to the PetsMart the next day, having scrounged up a little bit more money, while still retaining possession of his car. He hoped it would be enough. Pack had prayed every day on the steps of the church that his dogs would still be there, now it seemed his prayers had been answered. He walked up to the adoption counter and said he had the money, but Lindsay Carrothers pushed the bills back towards him and Pack’s face flooded with shame.
A Broken Heart
Pack felt the tears well up in his eyes, “Why is that?” he asked, his voice cracking with despair. “I can’t have my dogs?” His voice was choking up, making his words almost inaudible. He repeated himself once more, “I can’t. I can’t have my dogs?” Pack’s chest was burning with grief. It was the thought that he might still have a chance to get his dogs back that had driven his entire recovery, and now he felt his dream crumbling around him.
A Christmas Miracle
Lindsay Carrothers had handed the bills back to Pack, and watched as the tears pooled in his eyes. She was quick to begin her explanation, that he was getting his money back because someone had already paid the adoption fees for him. The shelter had already reduced the price for him, knowing it was more than the sick veteran could afford, but when Melissa Eagle had returned to the shelter, she put out a call for help.
Paying It Forward
When Melissa Eagle put out her call for her, she expected several volunteers to donate a few dollars here and there until the adoption fee was covered, and Melissa herself was planning on helping as well. To her surprise, one woman, Chris Malec was willing to pay the entire thing. Though the adoption fee was covered, others still wanted to help, so they began purchasing a few extras that they thought Pack might be able to use.
An Abundance Of Joy
Pack was still standing at the counter, nearly in shock as Carrothers began pulling out bags of food, toys, gift cards, and special treats that had been donated to him by a number of shelter volunteers. It was the best Christmas gift Pack could have asked for, and he was overcome with emotion once more, but this time it was tears of gratitude. Pack could hardly comprehend how a group of strangers could be so kind.
A Reunion For The Ages
Lindsay Carrothers left Pack with his gifts as she went to retrieve Blaze and Bailey. The two dogs were so happy to see Pack again that she could hardly control them as they bounded over to Pack and began showering him with kisses. Pack, who was still quite frail following his illness was knocked off of his feet by the intensity of his dogs’ excitement, but he didn’t mind. Unbeknownst to Pack, there was still more to come.
A Mission For The Ages
The First State Animal Center and SPCA was founded in 1953 with a mission to both protect animals from people and people from harmful animals. They were given the state contract to manage animal control for all of Delaware in 2005, which allowed the center to grow considerably. This is what allowed Blaze and Bailey to be given such good care when animal control was called following Pack’s heart attack, as he was discovered in a parking lot with both dogs by his side.
Another Helping Hand
During the time of his illness, Pack discovered that there had been more resources available to him as a veteran than he ever knew. While he was undergoing his lengthy rehabilitation, he discovered both the Delaware Commission for Veteran Affairs and the general Veteran Affairs, both of which could help him to train for a suitable job. Pack was ready to return home, but there was still another surprise waiting for him before he could leave the store.
From The Bottom Of His Heart
What Pack didn’t know was that his entire exchange had been captured on video, and everyone who had helped his dogs return home had gathered at the store together. Pack’s gratitude was profuse as he embraced each member of the group who’d donated to him and his dogs. Pack later shared that his dogs were so excited to be home that they’d pushed him out of bed in their attempts to cuddle, and wouldn’t let him sleep on the couch alone.
An Abundance Of Generosity
Melissa Eagle still had one more surprise up her sleeve. After she posted the heartfelt video documenting Pack’s reunion with his babies, it quickly went viral, which sparked another idea. Melissa set up a GoFundMe page for Pack, detailing his heartbreaking story. Her goal was met in only two days, and ultimately raised over $7000 for the veteran, who was then invited to appear on Fox & Friends with his pups and their guardian angels. Pack could not be more grateful.