MANATEE -- Aside from their service in the U.S. Armed Forces, Gary McClughen and John Coppenhaver also share a love for dogs.
They were quick to take advantage of the new Pets for Vets program recently announced by Manatee County Animal Services.
The program, which continues through Sept. 7, allows veterans and active duty military to adopt dogs and puppies for free, aside from the county's license fee of $15.
"It's a good deal. There had been something missing from our lives," said McClughen, who served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1970, including a tour of duty in Vietnam in places like Song Be, Can Tho and Saigon.
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McClughen and his wife were looking for another dog after Trevor, a Hurricane Katrina rescue dog, died.
"It's a friendship, and a pal, someone to love," McClughen said of his new dog, Freddie, a Manchester terrier.
Coppenhaver and his wife, Donna, had also been looking for another dog as a companion for Chelsea, a boxer mix and a rescue dog.
They found Daisy, a Catahoula Leopard Dog, since renamed "Baby," at Animal Services.
During playtime, they took Chelsea to meet Baby and the two became friends right away, Coppenhaver said.
"We both come from families with lots of animals," said Coppenhaver, who served in the Marines from 1985 to 1989.
Baby was the first dog to be adopted under Manatee's Pets for Vets, and Wednesday seemed to be enjoying her new home, getting a belly scratch from Coppenhaver, and a friendly tussle with Chelsea.
Beth Lewis, the kennel manager at Animal Services in Palmetto, said Americans do remember the meaning of Memorial Day, which was the kickoff of Pets for Vets.
"For the next few months, this is something celebrating the people who stood up for us," Lewis said.
Lewis hopes the program will also help Animal Ser
vices reduce its overload of dogs.
"We have 130 dogs in the shelter which was built for 80. We have a little of everything," she said.
Bill Hutchison, Manatee County Animal Services director, said Pets for Vets is a great way to give back to those who served in the military.
"For so many people, including myself, owning a pet is one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable. They're great stress and anxiety relievers and they're incredibly uplifting friends," Hutchison said in a press release.
Manatee Animal Services at 305 25th St. W., Palmetto, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
For information call 941-742-5933 or visit mymanatee.org/pets or facebook.com/manateecountyanimalservices.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.