Daniel had been in Afghanistan two months. It was July 2012, his third tour of duty and his first with Oogie, his military working dog. They were leading their platoon on yet another patrol, clearing a no-name village with maybe 15 houses and one mosque, when they began taking fire.
“The first thing that went through my mind,” he says, “was, ‘S- -t. My dog’s gonna get shot.’ ”
It was a perfect L-shaped ambush, bullets coming from the front and the right, the platoon pinned down in a flat, open landscape. Along the road were shallow trenches, no more than 14 inches deep. Daniel grabbed Oogie, squeezed him in a hole, then threw himself over his dog.
It went against all his Army training. “They tell us it’s better for a dog to step on a bomb than a US soldier,” he says. The truth is Daniel, like just about every other dog handler in the armed forces, would rather take the hit himself.
Five weeks into their training, Daniel and Oogie were inseparable. They showered together. They went to the bathroom together. When Daniel ran on the treadmill, Oogie was on the one right next to him, running along.
That week, Daniel got Oogie’s paw print tattooed on his chest.
“The few times you safeguard your dog are slim compared to what he does every time you go outside the wire,” Daniel says. “That’s your dog. The dog saves you and saves your team. You’re walking behind this dog in known IED hot spots. In a firefight, the dog doesn’t understand.”
In September 2012, Daniel and about 18 other soldiers boarded a flight back to North Carolina; their deployment was over.
Waiting on the tarmac were employees from a North Carolina-based company, K2 Solutions, which had the government contract for the dogs. Within moments of deplaning, the handlers got to pat their dogs on the head, say their goodbyes, then watch as the dogs — and all their equipment, down to their shredded leashes — were boarded on a truck and driven away.
“It’s a bunch of infantry guys, and no one wants to be the first to start crying,” Daniel says. “But it didn’t take long. There wasn’t a dry eye.”
The only solace these soldiers had was the knowledge that they could apply to adopt their dogs, and that the passage of Robby’s Law in November 2000 would protect that right.
More than three years later, Daniel still doesn’t have Oogie. The dog has vanished.
Daniel, who doesn’t want to use his real name because he’s on active duty, is one of at least 200 military handlers whose dogs were secretly dumped out to civilians by K2 Solutions in February 2014, a Post investigation has found.
At least three government workers were also involved and may have taken dogs for themselves.
It’s a scandal that continues to this day, with hundreds of handlers still searching for their dogs — and the Army, the Pentagon and K2 Solutions covering up what happened, and what may still be happening.