Reuniting War Dogs With Their Soldiers Is a Mission of Its Own
Kristen Maurer knows what makes a tough veteran melt: bringing his best buddy back to him.
Marines and soldiers often call Maurer once they finally have the approvals required from the military to adopt their dogs, but they don’t know how to get the dogs home from where they’ve been retired, which could be overseas.
“They have this desperation, they have this fear — you can just hear it in their voices. I can’t even describe it, but I hear it every single time,” Maurer says. “I say, ‘We will take care of every single part of it.’ I hear some relief, but they think it’s too good to believe.”
Maurer and her co-founders, Bob Bryant and Louisa Kastner, use donations to their group to facilitate the transportation home. That could take 10 days to three months, depending on where a dog is located.
“When I go get the dog and I hand the leash over, they all of a sudden go from this tough Marine to this marshmallow,” Maurer says. “All of a sudden, it’s just like a little boy and his dog.”
Bringing Heroes Home
If a military dog is retired overseas in a non-combat zone, the dog is not part of the military any more and cannot legally be put on military transport, Maurer explains.
“If the handler can’t afford to get the dog back, [the dog is put] up for adoption overseas,” Maurer says. “So these guys who’ve given their all to their country, who’ve gotten [approval to adopt] their dogs — they’re theirs for the taking — cannot afford to get their dogs back home.”
The American Humane Association has helped sponsor some of the reunions and appeared on Capitol Hill with Mission K9 last summer to push for a change to the law so that military dogs would be retired in the United States instead of overseas, allowing them a less expensive ride home via military transport.
“Military and contract working dogs — these are tough, tough jobs,” says American Humane president and CEO Robin Ganzert. “These dogs work incredibly hard. … These soldiers have served in unimaginable circumstances, and they’re looking for their dogs back.”
Six teams of retired dogs and the service members whom Mission K9 and American Humane helped reunite will join Ganzert and others on the AHA’s float in the Veterans Day parade today in New York.
Maurer has witnessed many of those reunions and says they’ve all been special and important in some way. Some really stand out in her mind, like the one between Army Sgt. Jason Bos and Cila, a 6-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever.
“Cila came from Germany. That was the most emotional one, because that dog went bananas when she heard her daddy,” Maurer says.
Bos served with Cila, whom he calls Cici, for four and a half years. They trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where many military working dogs are trained.
The partners worked stateside, where they did a lot of missions with the Secret Service to prepare sites for presidential appearances, including at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. They then left for a 12-month deployment to Iraq, where Cila sniffed out explosives. But their tenure together was cut short when Bos injured his back while in the United States training for another deployment. That forced him to retire early, in December 2012.
“She was too young, and [the military] wouldn’t let me adopt her out, which I understood but I wasn’t happy about,” Bos says. “I figured I never would see her again. … It was tragic when I left her. I knew what was happening, but she had no idea what was going on.”
Bos was heartbroken and kept track of whom Cila’s handler was and where she was deployed. Earlier this year, the new handler contacted Bos to tell him Cila was being retired, and Bos jumped at the chance to bring her home.
A Heartwarming Homecoming
Getting Cila home from Germany, where she was stationed, was a problem for Bos, who’s now in college in Michigan. Luckily, he heard about Mission K9 Rescue. Maurer told him she’d take care of everything.
The two were reunited on April 30 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
“I was hoping she would remember me,” says Bos, who hadn’t seen his dog in two years. “I made some interesting noises to get her excited” — and Cici immediately recognized those sounds.
“I’ve seen a lot of videos of reunions, but nothing compared to her — I was pretty happy that she remembered me,” he says.
Now Cici is enjoying her retirement with Bos. “She has her own bed. She sleeps on furniture. She sleeps on my bed,” he says. “She gets to play a lot and she gets to spend a lot more time with me.”
Mick Makes It Home
Another touching reunion Maurer facilitated this year was between Marine veteran Matt Foster and his black Lab, Mick.
When Mick finished serving with Foster in Afghanistan, he and a number of other contract working dogs were brought back to North Carolina.
Foster started the process of adopting Mick before he even left Afghanistan. He was told repeatedly that Mick wasn’t available, but after about 18 months, Foster got a call saying his dog was being medically retired. Then he had to find a way to get Mick to his home in Denver.
“I originally was going to do it myself, but then they told me it was going to be close to $2,000, and at the time I couldn’t afford that,” Foster says. He heard about Mission K9 Rescue through social media and contacted Maurer.
“She said, ‘You don’t get it — we pay for everything,’ and then she did! It was pretty awesome,” Foster says.
He worked with Mick for about 9 months, and knew he would have first dibs to adopt him because he was the dog’s most recent handler.
“He kept me and my other Marines alive, and he kept us going physically and emotionally,” Foster says. Mick served a total of four tours in Afghanistan. “He’s a good dog. He did his job well, and he never let the guys down. He never let me down. I thought it only fair that I give him the type of life he deserves.”
Living the High Life, at Last
Asked how the dog is doing, Foster laughs and says, “He’s living the high life right now.”
Mick and Foster live with two of Foster’s best friends, and Mick adores their German Shorthaired Pointer, Colby. “She and Mick are like two peas in a pod,” he says. The Lab, who turns 7 this month, also loves hunting with Foster.
Both Bos and Foster say they’d do anything now to assist Mission K9 Rescue in helping other handlers get their dogs back.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing what they do, and I think more service members need to be made aware of it,” Foster says. “I know when I thought I couldn’t get my dog back, I was devastated, and then all of a sudden I had someone come along and offer to pay for it and I get my dog back.”
Foster is still hoping to adopt Macy, a chocolate Lab he also handled. If that eventually goes through, he may turn to Mission K9 Rescue again. And Maurer and her group will be there to help him and other service members.
Maurer says, “These guys see things we will never, ever understand. I see, when I hand them their dogs, a little piece of them being put back together."
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