While they were in the Helmund Province in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sergeant Deano Miller and his Military Working Dog Thor, a yellow Labrador retriever trained in improvised explosive detection, were inseparable.
Starting with their training in October 2009, the two of them shared a strong bond almost immediately, and it only strengthened during their deployment, so both of them had difficulty accepting their separation in November of 2010 when Sgt. Miller returned home to Tacoma.
“When I had to put Thor in his kennel, it was the first and only time he refused to listen to me,” Sgt. Miller said of the day he left Thor to return home from Afghanistan. “I felt like someone took a hammer to my heart; it was like I was abandoning my best friend and he couldn’t understand why.”
Sgt. Miller contacted Washington Senator Patty Murray’s staff as soon as he returned home to find out how he could adopt Thor, and with their help he applied to adopt his Thor after he completed his service in the Marine Corps.
And it was a good thing he put in his application quickly because two of Thor’s four other handlers applied to adopt him as well, but Sgt. Miller ended up getting Thor because he put in the first application.
Thor made such an impression on Sgt. Miller that he ended up adopting a Labrador retriever before he knew he would get Thor. He has a Siberian husky as well, but he’s not worried how they will get along because Thor “loves other dogs.”
Yesterday at Sea-Tac Airport, Sgt. Miller experienced the moment he had been waiting for since 2010.
Waiting a bit nervously at the bottom of the escalator that would carry his former partner to him, Sgt. Miller described Thor as “my best friend,” and “my everything” while they were together.
“If (Thor) even shows any sign that he knows me a little bit, I’m probably going to cry,” he said.
Then Sgt. Miller fell silent as his eyes flicked upwards towards the escalator towards a smiling woman holding a red leash with a wagging yellow Lab at the other end.
Thor was home.
Now 7-years-old, Thor was a bit overwhelmed by gaggle of reporters, cameras, and passersby that surrounded him as he was taken to Sgt. Miller. And, in typical Lab fashion, he tried to greet ever person that formed the circle around him.
It was unclear at first whether or not he recognized Sgt. Miller, but he was prepared for that. After all, they hadn’t seen each other in four years, and Thor had four other handlers after him.
Watching Thor’s body language, Sgt. Miller knew another reason why the dog was a bit anxious and didn’t focus his attention on his former handler – after the long plane trip, Thor REALLY had to go to the bathroom.
Trailed by a dozen or so people frantically trying to get a good pictures, Sgt. Miller led Thor to the “doggy bathroom” outside. Once he took care of business, Thor was much less amped up and happily followed Sgt. Miller around as the rest of us took more pictures and asked questions.
As Sgt. Miller gave Thor a butt scratch, which he said was one of Thor’s favorite things, he said he wanted to work with Thor because he was a huge Marvel Comics fan and Thor was named after one of his favorite characters.
Sgt. Miller’s fiancee Tomi Gallegos smiled as she watched him interact with Thor, the dog he had talked about nonstop for the last 3 years. His mom was also there, excited to meet her new “granddog.”
Without elaborating, Ms. Gallegos said, “This is going to help him with everything he’s going through.”
The American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue made Sgt. Miller’s reunion with Thor possible. The nonprofit organizations work together to bring military working dogs back to the U.S. from combat abroad and reconnect them with their former handlers.
Mission K9 Rescue’s Kristen Maurer, who accompanied Thor to Seattle, had clearly bonded with Thor during their short time together. He was the first dog she had reunited with a veteran.
As Sgt. Miller prepared to leave, she gave him a long hug and then began to cry as she prepared to tell Thor goodbye.
He is certainly a special dog, and I hope he enjoys his well-deserved retirement.
Semper Fi, Sgt. Miller and Thor.
Here are a couple of videos and several pictures from their happy meeting yesterday.