Retiring military dogs return home — and get adopted by their former handlers

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Dogs play an important part in the US military. They’re heroes in their own right, fearlessly saving lives in battle and taking down enemy combatants, but they also provide morale and support for their fellow soldiers.

These dogs deserve a great life when they retire from the service — which is why one group has been reuniting military dogs with their former handlers, who will give them a loving forever home.

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May was the Humane Society’s Military Appreciation Month, putting a spotlight on their work with the US military, which includes teaming veterans with therapy dogs to deal with PTSD and other conditions.

They also help retiring military K9s adjust to life after their service by helping to reunite them with the handlers they worked with overseas.

American Humane shared some of the recent success stories — like Popeye, a 7-year-old German shepherd who got a heartwarming surprise after seeing a familiar face.

According to the Humane Society, Popeye was handled by U.S. Army Specialist Mike Steponovich while they were stationed in Korea. The two quickly became close friends.

But after six years of working with military K9s, Mike retired from military service and relocated to Las Vegas. The goodbye was hard for both him and Popeye.

“When I had to leave him, it was really emotional –  you never know when it’s going to be the last time you see your dog,” Mike said.

But after Mike’s departure, Popeye’s mood drastically changed. It was clear to everyone that the dog had become attached to his handler.

He started showing signs of separation anxiety, and would constantly chew on his tail. The military decided to allow Popeye to retire early.

But American Humane helped get Popeye back to the US — and back to Mike, who enthusiastically agreed to give his old friend a forever home.

Mike and Popeye finally reunited last month at The Mirage in Las Vegas. “Having him back in my life is going to be absolutely amazing. I am so excited to just show him the area, take him on my adventures, and do stuff here in Vegas,” Mike told American Humane. “Just having him around day-to-day is going to be amazing.”

And that was just one of the success stories the group has had reuniting veteran K9s with their former handlers.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wade Alfson worked with a Belgian Malinois named Xxanthe for over a year while stationed in the Middle East. According to American Humane, the two were part of dangerous missions, “putting themselves in harm’s way to keep their fellow troops safe from danger.”

“She’s such a caring and charismatic dog – she was like the morale for all of us soldiers who served together and we all loved her,” Alfson said, according to the Daily Mail.

When Ssgt. Alfson was reassigned to an Air Force Base in Hawaii, he was separated from his old friend over over a year. But he was determined to give her a good home once she was retired from service.

“I kept in touch with everyone and then once the time was coming, they kept me updated and I made sure that I was the number-one slot to get her,” Alfson said.

When the time finally came, American Humane helped him handle all the logistics of getting Xxanthe to his new home in Hawaii.

The two finally reunited after over a year apart, and they were both thrilled to see each other. “The first few moments getting to see Xxanthe again was pretty much exactly how I wanted it to go,” Alfson said.

“I was a little worried at first about how she would be, but once she was in close proximity she knew exactly who I was and jumped towards me. That felt great because there’s always a worry that they’ll forget you but she definitely remembered me and was happy to see me.”

We’re so glad these dogs are home safe, and have loving forever homes with their former handlers! These hero dogs deserve all the love in the world and a happy, peaceful retirement.

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