News>Feature - The last days of an Airman's best friend
Military Working Dog Jessey/L063 shares a moment with her handler at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. MWD Jessey was first assigned to Minot AFB in June 2007 and during her six years of honorable military service, Jessey conducted numerous explosive sweeps for missions within the continental U.S. and foreign countries. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
MIlitary Working Dog Jessey is held during her final moments by her handler, Staff Sgt. Eric Rod at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. In June 2012, MWD Jessey‘s annual blood work revealed life threatening bone marrow cancer; she was officially retired from duty on Nov. 20, 2012.
The 5th Security Forces Squadron held a memorial service in honor of Military Working Dog Jessey/L063. MWD Jessey was first assigned to Minot Air Force Base in June 2007. During her six years of honorable military service, MWD Jessey conducted numerous explosive sweeps for missions within the continental U.S. and foreign countries. Jessey was officially retired from duty on Nov. 20, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
by Kiley Swopes
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
12/13/2012 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- Two months ago, I spent a lot of time with the Military Working Dogs at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.; learning about their mission, getting to know them and even allowing myself to overcome one of my greatest fears of being attacked by a dog during their training.
I had established a connection, not only with the handlers of the kennel, but with the dogs as well. Talking to the handlers allowed me to hear the stories each dog seemed to have. But one dog's story would soon be coming to an end. That dog's name was Jessey, and being with her during her final days would change me forever.
On Nov. 15, I went to the kennels to cover a "feel good" story about the 5th Contracting Squadron's efforts to collect and donate dog treats to the MWDs. When I arrived I noticed one dog roaming around the office. This seemed odd, so I asked about her story.
The dog was seven-year-old Jessey. To my dismay I learned Jessey had been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in June and she had gone blind in her right eye, making her no longer fit for duty.
As I continued to listen to Tech. Sgt. Randy Akin, 5th Security Forces Squadron kennel master, answer questions from Airmen from the 5th CONS, my heart sank as I learned that Jessey was eventually going to be put to sleep.
When the group split off for a tour, my questions continued. I almost felt sick when I learned Jessey was actually going to be put down in four days. Four days!
At that moment I forgot about why I was there and focused all of my attention on Jessey. Tech Sgt. Aaron Allmon, our public affairs photographer NCO in charge, and I spent all afternoon at the kennels. As I watched everyone interact with Jessey, it was easy to see the amount of joy she brought to them. But their smiles could not hide the feeling of dread they had, knowing these were her last days. Their faces told the story. The final decision to ease her suffering had not come easy.
While each handler had formed their own special bond with Jessey, she was actually assigned to Staff Sgt. Eric Rod, 5th SFS MWD handler. The bond they had was obvious, for as soon as Rod walked into the room, she immediately perked up. Rod arrived with lunch for his K9 partner. Two cheese burgers were on the menu. One for himself and one for his special friend, Jessey. Together the two ate their lunch as buddies, even sharing an order of fries.
Soon after our visit, the MWD crew called to let us know they were going to hold a "last supper" for Jessey on Monday night. The handlers and their families all gathered together for a barbecue in her honor. I watched Jessey go from person to person, almost as if she was saying good bye to everyone in her own way. It was a humbling and gut-wrenching experience.
Jessey received a gourmet meal that night--full of countless hotdogs and hamburgers. She was the only one to receive a steak and although she appeared to be full, she still finished it. Together, the unit gave Jessey a toast and then they all suited up to be "attacked" by her one final time. After all, chomping on a potential bad guy was one of her favorite activities.
That night, Rod, his wife Tiffany and daughter Erica, spent the night at the kennel with Jessey. They did their best to make her as comfortable as possible. One can only imagine the sorrow going through Rod's mind as he tried to sleep that night, knowing his friend and partner would soon sleep forever.
As I drove to work on Tuesday, I replayed the memories I had established with Jessey in such a short amount of time. I met Allmon at our office and as we drove to the kennels, neither of us said a word. As we got closer to the kennels, my stomach began to turn and a lump formed in my throat. I felt like I was about to cry just thinking about what was about to happen. I wondered if Jessey would understand.
When we arrived to the kennels, Allmon and I agreed out of respect for Jessey and Rod's bond, we would capture only one last photo of their final moment together and leave.
As we waited, Jessey continued to play while everyone in the room exchanged light-hearted stories about her and what a great dog she was. However, when Akin appeared, telling everyone to say their final goodbyes, the room turned deadly silent. No one moved. Everyone sat there looking at Jessey.
Through tear-filled eyes, hugs and goodbyes swarmed Jessey as the Airmen all paid their final respects. I hid behind a wall, using a TV to block the flood of emotions that overcame the room.
I felt like I was in a haze as the time continued to pass by. While the Airmen set up the veterinarian's supply table, I refused to look; keeping a close eye on Jessey's every move. I knew the time was near, but I prayed for all of us to have a little more.
Rod led Jessey down a hall which led to the veterinarian's room. As I followed down the hall, I tried to switch into "work mode". However, the lump in my throat returned as I looked up and saw tears streaming from the eyes of U.S. Army Capt. Morgan Mander, Minot AFB veterinarian, as she watched Rod play with Jessey one last time while making their way to the room.
Once inside the room, Rod steeled himself as he put aside his emotions and assisted Mander by prepping and calming Jessey. After all the times Jessey watched her friend's back, it was now Rod's turn to try to reassure her.
The time came when everyone stepped out, leaving Allmon and I with Jessey and Rod. As I stood there, watching Rod holding Jessey on the table, I caught a glimpse of tears coming down his wife's face in the background. I knew at that moment we were capturing a bond no words could really explain.
With that thought in mind, Allmon shot his final photo and gave me the nod to grab the equipment. We both whispered our goodbyes to Jessey and closed the door as we left the room.
As tears streamed down my face, Allmon looked down at me and said, "Man, that was hard." I looked up only to see that Jessey touched him just as much as she did me as he began to cry too.
-- Jessey, your selfless service and friendship will be forever missed. You will always be remembered. --
1/6/2013 10:35:17 AM ET God Bless you Jessey for your heroic service to our country and your Devotion Courage and Love of your family. There is no words that can describe the feeling we have when mst let our 4 legged family cross ove and guard Heavens Gate. We can only reflect in the memories we have and know that our special k9's are truly watching over us from above. Godspeed Jessey and THANK YOU RIP
Frank A. Yevchak Jr., Hewitt NJ
12/28/2012 6:52:05 AM ET Amazing Story Nothing but tears
Andrew, Lackland AFB
12/27/2012 8:28:15 PM ET What a great story. I was hoping the inevitable would somehow be avoided. The hardest thing I've ever had to do so far is putting my beloved furbaby down after 8 years. Thank you to all our canine members of the armed forces past and present and God bless our military members and their families.
Jen, Fort Collins CO
12/27/2012 3:11:25 PM ET I had to step away from my desk for a bit after reading this story. Thanks to the Minot family for sharing Jessey's story.
12/27/2012 7:41:31 AM ET Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food water and sunshine and our friends are warm and comfortable.All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content except for one small thing they each miss someone very special to them who had to be left behind.They all run and play together but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group flying over the green grass his legs carrying him faster and faster.You have been spotted and when you and you
Jack Ledom, San Antonio TX
12/24/2012 5:34:22 PM ET I was reading and hoping at the very end that some miracle would happen. darn it...broke my heart. R.I.P. Jessey
Ray, Corinth Tx
12/23/2012 1:52:32 PM ET To Jessey Rod and all Pooches and Handlers of all generationsI ask one thing - that in still far-off dayssomeone who knew me should in their daily roundssuddenly pause caught by some sight or soundsome glance some phrase some trick of memory's wayswhich brings me to mind then I shall waiteager with hope perhaps to hear -how great if he were with us stillAnd then at the end all that I wish for is just -he was my friendA Soldier's Epitaph
Jon Hemp, Dawgs West
12/21/2012 9:43:06 PM ET Having lost two German Shepherds to diseases it brought back loving memories of a mans best friend. I can never watch a movie again that a dog gets hurt or dies. Jessy is no longer in pain the lives of Eric and his fellow handlers and families are richer for the time they spent together.
Don, Colorado Springs CO
12/19/2012 2:56:04 AM ET What a great story to honor all K-9 and their handlers their emotions tears and all. My K-9 career started at Lackland AFB TX. with King in 1972. After our training we returned to Andrews AFB MD.I received orders to RAF Upper Heyford England and had to say goodbye to King. A very sad day for me and my first dog. The next 14 years I remained in K-9 working as a Patrol Dog Handler Narcotic Detection Dogs Explosive Detection Dogs Trainer for a few years and finally as the Kennel Master NCOIC of the Military Working Dog Section at RAF Upper Heryford UK Pease AFB NH.RAF Lakenheath UK. I promoted myself out of the career field and retired at Nellis AFB NV. Leaving K-9 was one of the saddest days of my life. Throughout my K-9 days I had the sad duty of putting too many dogs down but I learned a great deal assisting our veternarian doing necropsies. I cried for each of my dogs and this story brings back the tears two fold. Thank you again for sharing Jessey's story. God bles
Robert Walters, Phoenix AZ
12/18/2012 5:50:14 PM ET I know what it is like to put your friend and protector down. I put down two dog down while I was a handler from 1965 to 1968. One at McCoy A.B and one at Plattsburg NY. That does not include my Dog Duke who I had to leave in Vietnam in 1967. He was the hardest to leave as he was my best friend and protector for a year. RIP Jessey.
John James, Niskayuna NY
12/17/2012 3:39:21 PM ET This story definitely made my Eyeballs Sweat...as an animal lover especially most dogs...German Shepherds favored I found this to be a very sad ut comforting story...very well captured and presented
MSgt Paggett Ret, Tinker AFB OK
12/14/2012 7:49:56 PM ET Thank you for sharing this great but sad story. Our 4-legged Airmen defend our country just as we do. God Speed Jessey and prayers are with Staff Sgt. Eric Rod as he grieves. vr
Aven, Mountain Home AFB
12/14/2012 12:32:43 PM ET If you love dogs and especially German Shepherds you share their sorrow. I know because I had to part with my beloved German Shepherd last March. It is NEVER easy
E.D. CMSgt. Ret., Missouri
12/14/2012 12:31:53 PM ET Great story and I too watered up.
12/14/2012 10:08:58 AM ET By far the best commentary I've read in years Truly emotion invoking piece. I too had to stop reading in between tears.
MSgt A, Dover AFB
12/14/2012 9:46:59 AM ET Who's chopping onions in here
Tough Guy, USA
12/14/2012 9:16:00 AM ET Thank you for sharing this story it certainly brought tears to my eyes. I looked down at my dog and gave him an extra special hug. Then you have to ask yourself how can another human cause pain to these defenseless animals but there is so much animal cruelty.
Marion, Ft. Worth TX
12/14/2012 9:05:27 AM ET I had to force myself too keep reading this is so so so very sad it shows how special our 4 legged friends are. Thank you for sharing this with us. May Jessey RIP
CANDIDA TORRES, HOOKSETT NH
12/14/2012 12:32:07 AM ET May God bless Jessey's family and all of you great folks - and critters - keeping us safe by your service.
Bob Harrington, Seattle WA
12/13/2012 10:46:45 PM ET A great story and a great send off for a K-9 hero.Those of us who served in Vietnam and Thailand didnot have the chance to pay homage to our bodyguards and friends. The MWD that we left overthere will always be remember as will the ones whofollow.As a former K-9 Handler I salute the reporter as wellas the Handler and the Dog.
Marty McCauley Msgt Retired, Florida
12/13/2012 5:12:25 PM ET A story we can read and feel the writer's thoughts through our misty eyes. Thanks for sharing
Mark Wight, Provo Utah
12/13/2012 2:48:36 PM ET Thanks for sharing ... really sad story but it's always cool to see inside the lives of some of these people and what's going on that you don't get to hear about every day.
Rick, Grand Forks
12/13/2012 2:44:13 PM ET It's been quite a long time since I could not finish reading an article here or anywhere else without a tear in my eye. This had me smiling and crying at the same time. Thank you for posting such a touching story and reminding us about what is really important.
12/13/2012 10:14:27 AM ET Kiley thank you for such an amazing article on a valued member of our military family.