PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA, April 2, 2016 —
They served together on more than 50 missions and three deployments in Afghanistan, during which they ate together, slept together, and fought together. Then, they were separated and each, coping in his own way with the hidden wounds of war, wondered if they see the other again. But thanks to American Humane, which has championed the cause of military dogs and reunions of former “battle buddies,” the distinguished philanthropist Lois Pope, who is known nationwide for supporting America’s two-legged and four-legged military heroes, and a local police department with a big heart, Military War Dog “Bond” is finally back in the arms of his military hero handler.
The heartfelt reunion took place in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
“I want to let American Humane, Lois Pope, and the Pine Mountain Police Department know that I am extremely grateful and cannot thank you enough,” said Staff Sergeant Justin* (due to operational security aspects of Justin’s unit and the nature of his job, his full name and unit details must be kept confidential) . “Words cannot describe how happy I am, and I am sure if Bond could speak English he would tell you the same. Hey, he might even shake your hand! Three combat deployments together can truly forge a lifelong bond. Bond has been my best buddy during those times. It means a lot that I can now give him the relaxing life he has earned.”
In November, American Humane secured a major victory for military dogs everywhere with the passage of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with language mandating for the first time that our heroic military working dogs (MWDs) will be returned to U.S. soil upon retirement where their former handlers can adopt them. These dogs, who each save the lives of between 150-200 servicemen and women on the battlefield by detecting IEDs and hidden weapons caches, can continue to save lives on the home front by helping them cope with PTSD.
Despite the benefits these dogs provide to our returned warriors, they don’t always end up with their battle buddies. When MWD Bond retired last year, he took up service with the Pine Mountain (GA) Police Department as a K-9 Police Officer. Watching Bond’s former handler Staff Sergeant Justin struggling with his own issues and the pain of separation from Bond, the soldier’s longtime girlfriend reached out for help to American Humane, which has been working to help children, animals, and the U.S. military for more than 100 years.
Through the charity’s new Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs, which helps active-duty service members, veterans, military families, and military animals, American Humane stepped in, contacted the Pine Mountain Police Department, and offered $10,000 to fund a replacement for MWD Bond. Although the small department had itself become attached to the dog, they generously agreed that the best place for military hero dog Bond is with his military hero handler.
“We want to support our veterans,” says Pine Mountain Police Lieutenant Daniel Ferrone. “We love Bond, but after all these two heroes went through together for our country, they deserve to be reunited and spend their retirements in the company of those who mean the most to them.”
“No one has sacrificed more than these brave military heroes on both ends of the leash,” says philanthropist and American Humane board member Lois Pope. “It is our duty now to make sure that these brave battle buddies are reunited and continue to benefit from the lifesaving connection that held them together through the thick of the battle. On behalf of American Humane, I am proud to be part of this remarkable effort to serve those who served us so well.”
SSG Justin and MWD Bond will need to rely on each other more than ever, especially as SSG Justin prepares for the often-difficult transition back to civilian life this September. MWD Bond himself suffers from combat trauma, once knocking out his own teeth trying to chew himself out of his kennel during a thunderstorm.
“Bond has been Justin’s comrade, companion and only solace at times, for years,” said Justin’s girlfriend Sarah. “I’ve watched him care for and love this dog like a pet and best buddy, for a long time. The one and only time I’ve ever seen Justin cry in my life was the day he had to say goodbye to this dog. His reunion with MWD Bond is extremely important to him. Thank you to American Humane, Lois Pope, and the Pine Mountain Police Department. You don’t know how much this means to both of these heroes.”
Over the past year, American Humane has privately funded the transportation home of 21 military working dogs and contract working dogs and helped reunite them with their former human handlers. In July of 2014, American Humane held a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill to shed light on the need to bring home all our veterans and press for long-overdue changes to the NDAA, which were passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in November 2015.
“These heroes have served their country with valor, and saved the lives of our servicemen and women while risking their own,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “It is essential that now we step up and do the right thing for these warriors so they can benefit from the remarkable bond that safeguards and connects them, not only in war, but in peace.”