Megan Leavey wanted her dog back. No, she wasn't running around posting flyers on neighborhood bulletin boards and telephone poles -- because her dog was not lost. The dog lover is a former U.S. Marine Corporal and the dog she wanted back is Sergeant Rex, the bomb-sniffing german shepherd she lived and worked with during two deployments in Iraq.
After a lengthy fight with military bureaucracy -- and with the assistance of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- Leavey heard Monday that her long quest was successful and that she and her battle partner would be together again.
Schumer and Leavey got the good news yesterday that the U.S. Air Force, which administers the Military Working Dog Program, has agreed to release Rex into Leavey's care at her Rockland County, N.Y. home.
"I'm just so happy that I can be the one to take care of him because really, he has taken care of me in so many different situations that it's my pleasure," Leavey said on Monday. "I just can't wait for him to retire now and relax and be a pet and live the good life."
Schumer thanked the military for responding to Leavey's request and the popular outcry on her behalf, saying, "We salute the Air Force and the Marines for doing the right thing and allowing Rex to be with Corporal Leavey".
Leavey and Rex worked together seeking out and disarming improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one of the most dangerous and vital jobs in a war where so many troops were maimed or killed by IED blasts. Both were seriously injured in 2006 when a roadside bomb was triggered by an insurgent in Ramadi, Iraq. Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Valor Medal for her service and spent months with Rex as they both recovered from their injuries.
"Rex is my partner; I love him," Leavey told MSNBC. "We have been through so much together... I've spent day and night with this dog. It's a very strong bond."
Since returning home to New York and being discharged from the Marines in 2007, Leavey had been trying to adopt Rex and had her initial plea rejected that year when the military determined that the dog could still perform his duties. In other words, Rex was still on active duty. The former Marine continued to keep tabs on her wartime partner and, at 10 years old and in declining health, the dog had now been officially deemed unable to continue his work.
Leavey's desire to be reunited with him was intensified by her worries that Rex would actually be put to sleep before she could make that happen.
"As a safety precaution, they don't give all dogs away," Leavey said in a New York Journal News interview. "The dilemma with me is the minute they say he can't be adopted, because he's sick and because he can't work, they'd have to put him to sleep."
"Not because he's too sick to live a good life, but because they can't utilize him so it wouldn't make sense for them to keep a dog they're not going to work at the kennels. I don't want to let that happen."
Schumer took up the cause, launching a petition on his Senate web site to collect signatures on behalf of Leavey and Rex that would eventually garner almost 21,000 signatures.
"The story of Marine Corporal Leavey and Sergeant Rex is inspiring a nation, and it's vital that the United States Air Force move as quickly as possible to reunite Sgt. Rex with his former partner," said Schumer on the petition.
While it's a shame that one battle-tested Veteran had to wage such a fight to get to care for another, this is a story with a heartwarming and happy ending.
"I haven't seen him in three years or so now. I'm really looking forward to that first time I get to take him out of the kennels," said Leavey. "He's done his duty. It's time for him to relax."