CommunityVeterans In Focus


Veterinarian gives back to veterans through Hank's and Eli's Fund

hank and eli.PNG
Posted at 5:43 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 23:23:42-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — What happens after you hang up your military uniform for good? Your country no longer officially needs your service.

So now what?

For veterinarian and Vietnam War veteran Mike Moore at Southside Animal Hospital, he continued serving his community after leaving the military, prompted by a time when he felt he wasn't giving back enough.

For years, he felt guilty that he would never measure up to the extraordinary service of those brave veterans before him, such as his father and uncles who served in World War II.

"I don't know. It's just a feeling I have. I can't explain it. It's always haunted me," Moore said. "My dad was supposed to be in the first wave to invade Japan. If they hadn't dropped the (atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki), I wouldn't be here."

His uncle, James Leggett, survived the Bataan Death March where American prisoners were forced to walk until they died.

"I started to realize that (feeling is) something I had buried deep inside," Moore said.

Years later, in 2010, the heartbreaking news would travel home that local Marine Colton Rusk was killed in Afghanistan. Moore knew the Rusk family, and the fact that Colton's service dog, Eli, would return home to live with the Rusk family.

It was that moment when Moore reached out to the Rusk family and decided to provide free medical care to Eli for the rest of his life, no matter his condition or the expense.

Moore met other veterans who needed care for their animals, including William Cole and his dog, Hank. Hank needed care that Cole was not able to afford.

That's when Moore made a life-changing decision to start Hank's and Eli's Fund, which ensures that any animal of military families receives free veterinary care.

Justin Rokohl, a combat veteran, was one of Colton Rusk's childhood friends. He has a number of dogs that have received care from Moore, including his Belgian Malinois, Leia.

"Dr. Mike has patched her up for me a few times,' Rokohl said.

Leia also helps soothe Justin's battle scars, and even his lingering questions — like Moore's — of whether he is giving back enough after his active military service.

"Every vet puts himself up to the guys in World War II — from my generation, the guys in Vietnam — I look at the stuff Dr. Mike went through and I'm thinking I didn't do enough," Rokohl said.

Rokohl is runs archery events with Dark Horse Archery to bring veterans together, especially those suffering from combat-related physical and mental injuries.

Since the start of Hank's and Eli's Fund more than seven years ago, Moore has seen and healed hundreds of pets belonging to veterans and their families. He now feels a deep sense of fulfillment about giving back to those who need it the most.

"By giving back in these ways, it allowed me to to make up for what I felt like I never did," he said.