INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Losing a pet is an event many might describe as similar to losing a loved one.
It may be difficult for some to understand the bond between an animal and owner, but it's not a bond that should be taken lightly. This is a bond that many Military Working Dog (MWD) handlers understand and share with their canine partners.
The United States Air Force is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of MWDs. When one of the dogs falls ill, they do what they can to provide care and treatment. Unfortunately, it’s not always enough.
Such is the case of MWD Bruno, whose life and service to his country was cut short due to cervical intervertebral disc disease and degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, both of which affected his spinal cord and caused him severe pain.
“His initial problems came with his back legs going out on him so they did an MRI and CT scan and saw that his spine was being compressed and pressure was being put on his spinal cord,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hammer, 39th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler. “They did surgery for that in Germany and while he was recovering they started the retirement process.”
Unfortunately, after a while it was noticed that Bruno was having problems walking up and down stairs. He had to fly back to Germany for more tests and it was found that there were other areas of compression on his spinal cord, Hammer said.
“When I got here I knew there was a chance I was going to get a dog that would have to go on temporary duty for medical reasons,” said Staff Sgt. Tyrell Bias, 39th SFS MWD handler. “Bruno and I would go on temporary duty (TDY) for his medical issues and while it was cool seeing Germany, it was hard seeing my dog get cut open and seeing him recoup from that just to find out it wasn’t enough. That hurts.”
The risk of doing surgery was too high, and since the pain couldn’t be controlled, Bruno had to be put down, Hammer said.
Both Hammer and Bias spent time as Bruno’s handlers, each one meeting Bruno at various points in their careers. Bruno first worked with Hammer back in 2015 and again this year, and with Bias in 2019.
Bruno was still full of life and still wanted to play like a dog, Bias recalled. It was hard because it was clear Bruno wanted to continue working and playing, but unfortunately, Bruno’s body couldn’t keep up with his drive.
“I always thought he was just too big for his body,” Bias said. “He had a big body for a big personality. I love him for it.”
Bruno travelled to Germany where he was euthanized. Members of the 39th Air Base Wing lined a path leading to the Incirlik Air Base terminal, rendering a final salute as Bruno made his way through; officially saying their final goodbye.
“It was nice that they took the time out of their day to say goodbye to him,” Hammer said. “Some people say ’oh they’re just dogs’ but they’re much more than that to us MWD handlers. We look at them just like any other Airman.”
Hammer said he travelled with Bruno to Germany where they indulged in pizza, spaghetti and steaks, and travelled all over the country.
“It was bittersweet,” Hammer said. “I got to enjoy his last days with him and try to make them the happiest they could be but in the back of my mind I knew that every morning we woke up was another day closer to having to say goodbye to him forever.”
The way Bias and Hammer describe Bruno shows the care and understanding these Airmen had for their canine partner.
“Bruno was misunderstood. A lot of people call Bruno an asshole,” Hammer joked. “If he didn’t know you, he'd greet you with a growl. It wasn’t an aggressive growl, but to most people who didn’t know him, it freaked them out initially. But he was super loveable and playful.”
Bias described Bruno as dedicated and good at what he did.
“He was a good dog,” Bias said. “He did his job honorably the entire time and even suffered through the Turkish heat. You really can’t ask for more from a dog. He was great at bite work and detection but his body just couldn’t keep up with him. He was a great partner.”