A Farewell to My Father, the Colonel Who Loved Animals


Lt. Col. J.D. Rainbolt (a.k.a. Daddy) left us earlier this month, two months after he fell and broke his arm just below the shoulder. When he discarded his terrestrial cloak, he shed the pain of a body that refused to heal. He also left behind the tears of two daughters and a son who loved him very much.

Our loss is Heaven’s gain. I imagine the reception he received was filled with barks and purrs, whinnies and moos and even some chirps and screeches.

Most of Dad’s life he had animals. I grew up hearing that someday he would buy a ranch. In the mid-1960s he realized his dream and bought property near Seguin, Texas. A phone company engineer by day, he turned into a gentleman rancher on the weekend. Early on, the R Square Ranch resembled the ramshackle farm in the 1960s sitcom Green Acres starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. With a lot of sweat and perseverance, Dad molded the untended land into a working ranch.

Dad truly loved his cows. He’s the only rancher I ever met who bought his beef at the store. Because he didn’t want to worry about his calves ending up on someone else’s dinner plate, he raised pedigreed black Angus, which he sold as breeding stock. He was a trendsetter: Certified Angus in the 1960s

He decided before he bought his founding herd that he’d catch more cows with honey (cake) than vinegar. He trained his little herd to come to the sound of the car horn with the promise of a tasty treat called cake or range cubes. When he first opened the gate to the entrance of the ranch he’d honk the horn. A happy audience of black cows would stampede to the corral awaiting their bovine treats.

Dad’s his most touching animal story happened during World War II, when he found himself surrounded by war dogs. Dad served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a communications scout in France. He commanded a small squad men. During the course of the war, his men would feed or rescue starving strays they’d find along the way. In return the dogs offered affection and emotional escape from the horrors of war.

But, the army frowns on troops keeping pets. Even today soldiers conceal the dog or cat who travels with their units. However, some officers turned a blind eye to the illicit relationships, for the good of his people and the animal.

Lt. Rainbolt was one of those officers. An avid dog lover since childhood, my dad took no notice of the soldiers’ canine companions, or at least not officially.

The day before Dad and his men were shipped back to the states, one of his guys approached him and asked, "Lieutenant, what do we do with our dogs?" Dad told the soldier, "Find local families to give them homes. Give them some money so they can afford to feed them. You can’t bring them on the ship."

The next day when they boarded the troop transport ship, Dad said he couldn’t see a dog for miles. He just assumed the locals had a lot of wonderful new pets. Several hours after weighing anchor, pooches appeared on deck. A few at first. Then more and more. Before long Dad bumped into dogs no matter where he went on the ship. Dad learned that the smugglers had fed their dogs sedatives, stuffed them in their duffel bags, then carried them onto the ship. Dad’s men weren’t the only ones to disobey the dog abandonment order. Most of the dogs onboard had traveled with combats units. More than 100 French mutts found themselves bound for the United States.

The no-nonsense admiral in charge ordered my dad to shoot every dog on the ship. Dad replied that wasn’t wise. These men have been killing Germans for months. The dogs are part of their unit. If you start shooting dogs, there will be a bloodbath. These men won’t hesitate to kill to protect their dogs.

How would these soldiers carry out the mutiny, the admiral wanted to know. All of the weapons had been stowed in the bowels of the ship. Only the military issued weapons were locked up. The same duffel bags that smuggled in contraband dogs, also (legally) toted captured guns, ammo and knives. (Even Dad came home with eight captured German bayonets, and of course some cognac.) Before the admiral could enforce his dog destruction order, he’d have to take up the captured weapons. Each piece would have to be logged in, labeled and stored it so it could be reissued to the men before they left the ship. The confiscation process continued well past mid-voyage, at which time they had to start returning arms to the soldiers. After all, with an immediate turnaround, they couldn’t waste valuable dock time messing with souvenirs. The admiral conceded, and both mutts and men openly strolled the ship.

The last time Dad told the story, he couldn’t recall many of the details. The admiral and the ship’s name have been lost to time. And while these dogs saved the hearts and souls of his men, Dad just returned the favor. And for a few days at the end of World War II, Dad had more than 100 dogs. That made young Lt. Rainbolt the happiest dog lover in the world.

So I have no doubt that early yesterday, J.D. Rainbolt was greeted by joyful kitties, a few bunnies, some horses, a few parakeets, a large herd of Angus and a huge pack of dogs (a hundred of whom barked with French accents), all begging, “Pet me! Pet Me!”

Between tears I visualize the joyful reunion. “You go, Dad. I miss you.”

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About the author: Author, adventuress, and cat rescuer Dusty Rainbolt is a feline behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home (a book for frustrated people dealing with feline behavior problems), and Kittens For Dummies. Dusty is the product editor for Catnip, published by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She writes the monthly feline advice columns Dear Hobbes and Ask Einstein. She also freelances for Cat Fancy and anyone else whose checks don’t bounce. She is currently the vice president of the Cat Writers Association. Her latest book, the paranormal mystery Death Under the Crescent Moon, was released a few months ago.

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