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August 12, 2015

Inseparable

by dianeshort2014
I1Much is made of the bond among men at arms, but the unity between man and dog in a combat zone is very similar, perhaps stronger. Such was the relationship between Spike, a young, spirited black Labrador retriever, and his young U.S. Marine handler, Lance Cpl. Jared Heine, who trained with Spike from puppyhood and basic training to their deployment to Afghanistan in early 2011. The two were inseparable from the moment they met. They slept in the same bunk when they were off-duty. When Heine would Skype with his mother, Mary, back home in Louisiana, he’d tilt the computer tablet so she could say hi to the dog. United by an innate understanding of each other, Heine and Spike worked closely together, day after day, sniffing out explosives in the highly deadly environment of Afghanistan. Their objective was finding improvised explosive devices, or IED, the Taliban’s most brutally effective weapons against American troops. i2Each time he and Spike went out beyond the wire to clear routes for Marine patrols, they walked point, making themselves the first target as Spike combed the area for any whiff of nitrate that might signal a buried IED. This is what Heine tried not to dwell on: the risk associated with the need to find bombs and with the possibility of missing one. Three times they were in explosions. Many more times, Spike and Heine sniffed out danger that saved their lives and those of the Marines in the patrols. But the dangerous work took a toll of Heine, both physically and emotionally. He was sent back to the U.S. with a series of traumatic brain injuries received in the third explosion. He also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Heine returned home to Louisiana after being discharged from the Marines not knowing what happened to Spike. He found it hard not to think about his four-legged friend who was with since he was a puppy up until he was injured in the explosion. The only physical memento he had of Spike was a gold-and-purple Louisiana State University collar he had put on Spike when they first became partners. i3Spike also returned to the states where he was reassigned to another dog handler and sent back for a second tour in Afghanistan. When he returned from his second tour, he was taken to a facility in North Carolina that takes care of military animals. It offers the services of trained dogs that do not have homes or further military obligations to police departments for free. Dogs can also be adopted by their handlers, former Marines and eligible civilians. Aware that service dogs were adopted by their former partners, Heine filled out the paperwork to adopt Spike, who was in Heine’s own words, “Like my brother, my kid. He slept with me every day. We were inseparable.” That’s when he discovered that his beloved Spike had already been given to a law enforcement agency but he could not learn its name or where. i4His mother, Mary Heine, was troubled by the son who came back from war so different than before he left. He was upset much of the time and almost never slept. When he did, he was often disturbed by reoccurring nightmares. She knew she was losing him. She believed that if anything could change his life it would be finding the dog he loved so much. Desperate to help her son, she sought assistance from friends and military working dog groups that might be able to help her locate Spike. A posting on one site resulted in learning Spike had returned to the states and was assigned to work with the Virginia Capitol Police. She immediately emailed Col. Anthony S. “Steve” Pike, Chief of the Capitol Police, and made plans for a reunion between her son and Spike. Spike’s history with the Virginia Capitol Police began in 2013 when K-9 supervisor Officer Sean Chaulklin traveled to North Carolina and picked out Spike for Taylor, a fairly new member of the police force who had just begun training as a K-9 officer. Spike was her first K-9 partner. It was love at first sight. i5For about two years, they spent nearly every hour together on duty and at Taylor’s home. Spike was always there for Taylor when she struggled on the job and in her personal life. During a difficult breakup with her former partner, Spike was at her side as a friend. He never lets her down and she depended on him to always to be there. The days before the Feb 11, 2015 reunion had been exciting for Heine. He was going to see Spike again. He could barely wait and with that thought, his spirits picked up. Several days before the reunion, Col. Pike wondered what to do with Spike, who had since been trained and bonded with Taylor. The question was, should Spike stay on as Taylor’s partner or be returned to his original partner? That is when he shared with Taylor and told her he thought Spike had one more mission. Taylor knew it meant Spike would be returned to Heine. She also knew it would be hard to say goodbye to someone she loved and who loved her. She never expected not to be with Spike until he was an old, old dog. On Wednesday morning, Feb. 11, 2015, Heine and his mother Mary climbed the steps toward the Capitol landing. Awaiting them were the Capitol Police honor guard, a couple hundred state workers, i6lawmakers, some Marines and television crews. Standing in the middle of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth were Taylor and Spike. Heine moved nervously toward them. At first he stood and gently petted the dog while speaking with Taylor. He then bent down on his knees to look directly in his old partner’s eyes and embraced him calling him by his nickname “Spoik.” Spike responded with excitement. For the next 15 minutes as Taylor and Heine conversed, Spike showed affection to both he and Taylor. At one point Spike jumped up on hind legs to give his old master a lick on his face. Taylor watched, dabbing the tears from her eye. Once the public reunion was over, the group walked back to Capitol Police headquarters where Pike and Taylor told Heine of the plan to retire Spike in the next 30 days so he could again be his dog. Heine’s eyes filled with tears as did those of everyone else in the room. Taylor knew it would not be easy, but she knows the power of love is what makes life worth living. I7Taylor tearfully told Heine, “Take care of him. He means everything to me.” “I promise I will,” he answered. On the trip back to Louisiana, Mary couldn’t help but notice a marked improvement in her son’s attitude. He was cheerful, hopeful and determined to give Spike all the love and caring he deserved once they brought him home. Wednesday evening, March 4, 2015, the night before Spike would be returned to Heine, Taylor scattered all of Spike’s favorite toys before him and when they woke up on Thursday, Spike feasted on chicken nuggets. The two then drove to the Capitol Police headquarters, together for the last time. In her heart she knew it was the right thing to do but it wasn’t going to be any easier to let Spike go to his forever home. i8Minutes before the ceremony, Taylor got down on her knees and hugged Spike, burying her head in his soft black fur, lingering for a moments before standing up to wipe the tears from her eyes. She then directed Spike to sit down in a chair next to Heine while she stood behind him, holding his lease. Inside her whole body was shaking with emotion. Her thoughts went to the first time she met Spike. It was love at first sight. She was going to miss him terribly. Col. Pike stood before those assembled and began by telling of the time Heine and Spike spent in Afghanistan on patrol to located IEDs. He then read a passage Heine had written about his time in the war zone with Spike. i9It read: “I think about how much responsibility I have and pray Spike listens and makes me look good. I pray that he finds an IED and I won’t miss it and end up causing the death of someone” Pike said he understood the love and commitment these two shared and the enormous responsibility they shouldered in such a dangerous environment. He also praised the remarkable bond and friendship Spike and Taylor shared during the past two years with the Capitol Polices. Midway through Pike’s remarks, Spike spontaneously stood up in his chair, turned to his old partner and began licking him on the face. A few minutes later he did it again. Finished with his talk, Pike moved to Spike, removed his badge while Taylor unfastened his police dog vest. Pike then produced the LSU collar Heine had brought home with him and put it on Spike. i10Beaming from ear to ear, Heine then clamped a colorful leash on HIS dog. After the ceremony Heine, with a broad smile, said, “I couldn’t be happier. It just hasn’t sunk in yet that it is real.” He planned on keeping Spike active. Mary Heine had other plans. “He saved my son’s life and I’m going to spoil him.” Taylor knows she will never forget Spike, her first partner. “I feel this is Spike’s journey. There will be other dogs but there will never be another Spike.” In April, Taylor went to Alabama to pick out a newly trained dog with no previous owner. She now has her forever dog. View videos of the first reunion and the ceremony when Spike is returned to Jared Heine: http://www.wdbj7.com/video/marine-reunited-with-service-dog-in-richmond/31219848 http://blog.theanimalrescuesite.com/spikeandjared/

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