Friday, May 25, 2012

A MARINE AND HER DOG

Once upon a time, in 2003, a young woman named Megan Leavey joined the Marine Corps.  She enlisted after she had first tried going to college and then quit.  Her parents were very unhappy about her being a Marine, because she was the only child they had.  But Megan said, "Dad, I have to put myself in a situation where I can't quit and get to see what I'm made of.  That's the only way I'm going to grow up."

So Megan's parents stopped arguing with her, and she went off to training.  She ended up in a K9 unit, and her partner was a German Shepherd named Sgt. Rex.  He had already been to the war in Iraq with his first handler.  Rex was trained to sniff out any of the ingredients that might be in a bomb, and when he smelled them, he would lie down as a signal.  Then Megan would call the bomb squad to come and fix the bomb so that it wouldn't blow up.

Photo from Megan Leavey

Corporal Leavey and Sgt. Rex were deployed twice to Iraq.  They went on hundreds of missions, and they found lots and lots of bombs.  On September 4, 2006, they went on yet another mission.  They were always tethered together when they were working.  The two of them walked out ahead of five Humvees, and they found four bombs.  Then, after about four hours, they came to an intersection, and before Rex could even start sniffing around, a bomb went off.  It was set off by some bad guys who were watching from a distance.

Sgt. Rex and Corporal Leavey got thrown about 10 feet into the air, and they landed in a ditch.  But luckily, they both survived the bomb blast.  The reason they survived was mostly because the people who put the bomb there buried it too deep, so the shrapnel and stuff just went into the ground instead of into the Marine and her dog.


Photo from Megan Leavey

Afterwards, they had to spend some time getting healed up.  Corporal Leavey had traumatic brain injury and a hearing loss.  Rex got an injured shoulder and also a hearing loss.  They both were flown back to Camp Pendleton, and they were in recovery together.  Corporal Leavey was diagnosed with PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and she got treatment for that, too.  She received a Purple Heart Award, and she kept it in a box by her bed.  But then someone stole it, and she never got it back again.

Ms. Leavey left the Marines in 2007, and she tried to adopt Sgt. Rex at that time.  But Rex had totally recovered from his injuries, and he was still needed as a bomb-sniffing dog.  So he got a new handler, and Ms. Leavey went home to New York without him.  The people at Camp Pendleton kept her updated on Rex, and one time she even went and visited him.  Meanwhile, Rex's first handler, Mike Dowling, wrote a whole book about him, and it is called Sgt. Rex:  The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog.  You can get this book from Amazon.com, and 41 readers gave it a rating that averaged out to five stars, so it must be a very good book.



Anyway, Ms. Leavey went on with her life as a non-Marine, but it was hard for her because she gets depressed and anxious sometimes.  She was sad because she didn't think she would ever be able to adopt Rex.  But then last year at Christmastime, she found out that Rex had developed facial palsy, and he was being retired.  He was 11 years old by then.  But there was a whole bunch of paperwork, and everything takes a long time in the military, and Ms. Leavey was afraid Rex might be put down before she could adopt him.

So she started contacting some people who help veterans, and then Senator Charles Schumer got involved.  He put out a press release saying that he thought Ms. Leavey should get to adopt Rex.  Lots of people heard the story in the news, and they signed a petition, and there was a Facebook page and everything.  One person who got interested was Mindy Levine, who was a big dog lover, and also the wife of Randy Levine, the owner of the New York Yankees.

Then one day, Ms. Leavey got a call from an officer at Camp Pendleton, and he told her that her adoption of Rex had been approved.  So after that, Ms. Levine paid for Ms. Leavey and herself to fly out and pick up Rex at his retirement ceremony on April 6.  They flew first-class, and on the way home, Rex got to ride in the first-class cabin, too.


Photo by Seth Wenig/AP

Then on May 13, the Yankees had a big celebration of Rex's adoption.  They gave Corporal Leavey a Yankees shirt, and they also gave her a replica of the Purple Heart that got stolen.  Being at the big, noisy ball stadium was kind of scary for Corporal Leavey because of her PTSD, but she felt much braver with Rex beside her.

Mostly, she was feeling incredibly happy because she got to adopt Rex.  "Just to be able to care for him and to give him the best last years of his life I can, it means everything," Megan Leavey said.  She also said that she had a nice fenced yard for Rex to run around in with her two other dogs, Rocky and Patriot.  And she has plenty of toys, too.


North County Times photo

Ms. Leavey works as a dog handler for a private company.  Rex sleeps and does whatever else he wants to do.  "Rex is my partner; I love him," Ms. Leavey says.  "We have been through so much together...I've spent day and night with the dog.  It's a very strong bond."


6 comments:

  1. Love this story with a happy ending! Thanks, Piper, for telling it.

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    1. You're welcome! I'm glad you liked the story, Aunt Ginny!

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  2. Just wanted to let you know that I've given your blog the Versatile Blogger Award! http://leemakennels.com/blog/aboutblog/latest-awards/

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    1. Dear Tegan,
      I feel very honored that you gave my blog the Versatile Blogger Award. This is the first award I have ever got for blogging (or for anything else!) so it is very exciting. Thanks!
      Piper

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    2. Piper, I'm surprised - you deserve this one and many more!! :)

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