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Soldier's Tough Decision
DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI-TV) The bond between man and his best friend is often incredibly strong especially when that bond is formed in the middle of war.
Four years ago this week, Staff Sergeant Brian Van Fleet met Odie and then spent thousands of dollars to bring the stray dog home from Afghanistan to Iowa.
"For six months we were there. We had no running water. We'd use baby wipes to shower," said Van Fleet.
That corner of Afghanistan is where Van Fleet first laid eyes on his companion, Odie.
"They travel in packs and there was a lot of them, all over the place," said Van Fleet. "It took me a little time to kind of gain his trust and get him to come to me, but once I did, he was right there the whole time."
"A lot of the times during those stressful situations, a lot of those dogs were right there next to us. They'd come out on patrol with us," said Van Fleet.
He didn't want to leave Odie behind so he contacted an agency and for a couple thousand dollars had Odie shipped to Iowa.
"And then he sent us a picture. The dog laying in the sand and we're thinking, 'Boy this is kind of an ugly dog,'" said Linda Bullock, Van Fleet's mother.
He made it to Iowa and rejoined the unit for their welcome home ceremony.
"That dog was one of the best friends we had out there. He was out on patrol with us. He guarded our gate with us. He was a member of the team just like anybody else," said Van Fleet.
"There's no way to express the companionship of a dog you've been to a combat zone with," said Van Fleet. "He has helped me immensely, more than any therapy could."
A year ago, Odie broke out of his yard to wander like the way he had grown up. Van Fleet couldn't sleep. Johnston police found Odie and reunited him with Van Fleet.
Their next big challenge was a skin rash that started last spring and eventually spread to Odie's kidneys and lungs. Veterinarians still don't know what was making Odie sick.
"It's uh... probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life," said Van Fleet.
He said he couldn't bear to watch his buddy suffer anymore.
"I was, I was right there holding him," said Van Fleet. "He was a comfort factor. You know what I mean? He was something familiar that I knew I could trust in."
LINKS RELATED TO THIS STORY:
Soldiers animal companion fund. Helps raise money for soldiers to bring animals home. http://www.sacfund.org/Pages/default.aspx
Provides veterinary and transportation services to facilitate rescues from combat zones. http://www.nowzad.com
Provides training and placement of service animals for veterans. http://www.paws-effect.org
Local rescues for central Iowa. http://www.arl-iowa.org