Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. --
The bonds built between Marines are said to help people grow personally and professionally as they mold who they are as individuals, and as part of something bigger than themselves. This is especially so for military working dog (MWD) handlers and their K-9 partners, making it extraordinarily thrilling when a team is reunited forever more.
“Having been a handler most of my career, there is something special about your first dog,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jenna Cauble. “You never realize how the bond between you and your K-9 would impact you. For me, I always thought about him and kept him close to my heart since I left Japan in 2017. I hoped I would see him again and be able to give him a good life. Handlers being able to adopt these dogs especially the ones overseas is the best thing for this small K-9 community.”
Cauble had been in the Corps for two years when she was assigned her first MWD in 2015, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois named Bbutler P283.
“When we were newly assigned as a team I felt like we bonded immediately,” said Cauble. “We built a strong rapport that turned into a lifelong friendship. Bbutler was my first dog I ever handled in the Marine Corps. I was assigned three more military working dogs after him.”
Cauble originally did not know being a handler was an option, until she saw one in action and asked, “How do I do that?” And so began rigorous on-the-job training during Cauble’s off time, leading her to compete on a military evaluation board to be considered for the job, and earning a school seat in 2015.
From late 2015 to 2017, Cauble and Bbutler served together at Marine Corps Base Smedley D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan. Cauble said they spent their days working together as a team, serving and protecting the community, going on patrols, providing security for VIP visitors, and showcasing military working dog abilities through demonstrations for locals and visitors. Cauble said they even spent time exploring the island, finding waterfalls and going to the beach. The pair even experienced their first helicopter ride together.
“Working with Bbutler was my highlight in Okinawa,” said Cauble. “Not having a car or family really helped us connect. Even on my off days I would go to the kennels just to hang out with him. Having this dog that was my responsibility made me want to be a better Marine. I had more to lose than other Marines, and I wanted to not only treat him as a partner but as a friend.”
But as with all military service members, the time finally came for Cauble and Bbutler to part ways. And Cauble stayed true to the Marine Corps ethos, never leave a Marine behind. From the time she left the island of Okinawa, Cauble kept in contact with all of Bbutler’s handlers, receiving updates and pictures through the years.
“When I left Okinawa, I left my adoption papers for when the time came for him to retire,” said Cauble. “Once I heard he was retiring in May of 2020 I was excited. His health is degrading and he is not the same energetic dog anymore but I would constantly receive pictures keeping me posted with his well-being.”
But reuniting Cauble and Bbutler was no smooth transition. Bbutler, now 12 years old, has an auto immune disease called Immune-Mediate Hemolytic Anemia, and now requires daily medication, making it impossible for him to fly cargo. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Cauble became discouraged at the probability of never seeing her partner again due to stringent restrictions. Then, in May 2020, a non-profit organization stepped in. On February 3, 2021, the organization escorted Bbutler on his flight from Okinawa to San Diego, Calif., returning Bbutler to the states February 6, 2021, and driving him straight to Cauble’s doorstep on February 10, 2021.
“I remember pacing around and [was] actually pretty nervous,” said Cauble. “I did not know if he would remember me and it had been four years since I had seen him. Last time I saw him his health was perfect and to know he is sick broke my heart. It was a very overwhelming experience. I felt like I was trying to over prepare for a senior dog, I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible.”
“When he got out of the van he ran right up to me, I felt like we instantly reconnected,” said Cauble. “The bond between Bbutler and myself is hard to explain, he is my best friend and a part of my family. He was there for me in Okinawa and now I want to pay that back to the best life possible for him in his remaining years on this earth.”
Cauble said she plans to ensure Bbutler’s remaining years are filled with treats, naps on the couch, adventures to new places and lots of cuddling.
“One of the main things I want to do with Bbutler is take him to Arlington, Virginia, to see the newly built female K-9 handler monument at the National Cemetery,” said Cauble. “It is to honor military women and military service dogs. Even though he is sick, he still has a lot of life to live. He is the happiest I have ever seen him and those memories we have together when we were both younger I will cherish forever.”
However, reunions like these were not always possible. It was not until the Military Working Dog Retirement Act of 2015 was signed that dogs and handlers could be reunited to live out their lives in the United States, without the handler having to front the cost for their dog’s travel. Before that, if handlers could not afford to get their dogs back home, dogs were required to stay overseas and be adopted out by locals, leaving handlers wondering how their partners would spend their twilight years.
“The military working dogs are great partners and assets to protecting military bases as well as worldwide support in a conflict of war,” Cauble said. “These dogs serve to save, and they deserve to be remembered as well as enjoy their retirement. These dogs live for the work and do not know how to be just a dog, some dedicate their whole lives to the military and some are broken in the process. So when we as handlers are afforded the opportunity to adopt our prior MWDs it is a very incredible experience because we want nothing more but to honor them and their service that they dedicated their life to.”