They say the bonds between brothers-in-arms are stronger than any other, especially when that bond is between man and man's best friend. KUSA introduces us to retired Marine Cpl. Matt Foster and Mick.
"Physically and emotionally, he kept me going over there. He deserves the world, and I plan on giving that to him," Foster said.
Foster reunited with Mick on August 8th -- the service dog he teamed up with in Afghanistan to detect bombs. The pair completed more than 180 patrols, spending eight months together. They'd been apart for more than a year until Mick recently retired.
Although the two were reportedly inseparable while in combat, Foster's journey to adopt Mick was its own challenge. The U.S. military considers service dogs to be equipment and often leaves the animals to be adopted by locals or taken into shelters when they retire.
That's why Foster teamed with the American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue -- a partnership that strives to reunite military dogs and their handlers.
Mission K9 Rescue's president told The Denver Post: "Every one of these handlers I've talked to has a piece missing when they come back. This is a part of the healing process. You can see it on [Foster's] face right now."
American Humane Association CEO Robin Ganzert added that besides reuniting handlers with their service dogs, they are currently working with the Air Force to change its position on dogs as equipment in official manuals.
The war on terror marked a shift in enemy strategy. With hidden improvised explosive devices preferred by enemy combatants over actual combat, service dogs were needed more than ever.
According to National Geographic, at the height of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, an estimated 2,500 dogs were on the ground. In Vietnam, 4,000 dogs were used -- most of which were left in the country.
A nonprofit organization that aims to honor service dogs says other countries' militaries honor dogs in ways more similar to humans. For example, in Great Britain the Dickin Medal honors the work and sacrifices of animals in war. During WWII, the U.S. awarded service dogs Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, but the medals were later revoked.
Many argue that reuniting retired service dogs with their handlers is not only doing right by the animals, but it also helps the veterans.
A Forbes article cites veterans' risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide. Veterans groups have said for every soldier killed by enemy combatants, 25 veterans end their own lives.
A Smithsonian Magazine article says there's good evidence dogs can help veterans overcome mental scarring. Dogs not only soothed veterans in studies, but they also they changed them biologically. The dogs helped the humans produce the hormone oxytocin, which has been linked to feelings of trust and decreases feelings of paranoia.
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