Paying tribute to the furry veterans of the Americas
A Casa Grande family, along with their retired service dog Iiken, are working to change the way service animals are recognized when they return home.
CASA GRANDE, Arizona – Running around his yard and chasing a ball, Iiken can look like a normal, playful dog. But there is more to the black Labrador Retriever than its playful demeanor.
Iiken is a veteran. A military dog who served his country with distinction.
“It has saved countless lives,” said Sharon Miller, owner of Iiken.
As a bomb sniffer dog in Afghanistan, Iiken’s job was to detect explosives and keep the US military safe. He has the scars to prove it.
“They were on a mission and the vehicle they were in crashed into an IED,” Miller said.
Iiken’s handler at the time provided vital first aid to stabilize the dog, which had serious injuries to the side and rear legs. Iiken was then flown back to California where he underwent several surgeries to repair the damage from the IED.
Once Iiken was able to walk and perform his duties again, he returned to the front lines to continue his service.
Now 15 years old, Iiken is enjoying his golden years in retirement with this family at Casa Grande. Welcomed by the parents of one of his last owners, Iiken shares his time on the sofa and as an ambassador for military dogs.
“He knows once that [service] vest continues, it’s time to “work,” Miller said. “And when I say work, I mean he goes out and talks to people, we tell a story. They pet him, they love him and he eats it.
Miller and her husband hope that one day war dogs like Iiken will be taken care of after their service; offered the same type of health benefits offered to members of social services.
Most war dogs suffer from the same kind of injuries.
“We have to make sure these dogs are taken care of when they retire,” Miller said. “You know, some people come back with what they call a tripod: a leg is missing. Or a comeback like Iiken, who suffers from PTSD. He has nightmares in his sleep. You can watch him. He will cry out in his sleep.
As Iiken lives his retirement playing ball and lounging on the couch, Miller hopes for a future where the government, which sends these dogs to war, will return them the respect they have earned.
“They saved lives. Why can’t we treat them like the military that they are? Miller asks.
The Millers also advocate that military dogs be given the same benefits as service animals. As it stands, Iiken is not allowed in places like grocery stores or public transportation, despite his service and training.
The Retired Police K9 Foundation is supporting a Change.org petition to grant retired K9 military and police the same exemptions as service animals. The petition would allow retired military and police K9 owners to accompany their owners on public transportation and open up available housing options for other service animals.
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