Staff sergeant Emilia Hawthorn had served in the army for two years before she met her best friend. He was like many in his cohort when she first saw him, a German Shepherd puppy filled with life and energy.
Even though Emilia hadn’t spent a day with the little pup, she knew deep inside that she was looking at someone special. She had no idea what the future held for them.
As a staff sergeant, Emilia specialized in being a dog handler for the U.S Air Force before retiring. After months of acquainting herself with the position, she went into the field to serve her country.
It was then that she and Zeus would meet. Although the dog was slightly over five months old, he and Emilia would become best friends. But this wouldn’t last for very long.
Emilia had always been a dog person. Back home, her family had several pups as family members. As such, being a handler came easy to her. Melding the complexities of being a servicewoman and a dog trainer was the dream Emilia never knew she had.
Each moment she spent with Zeus was full of laughter and learning, making the dog her closest companion in the army. They would soon be deployed to the frontlines, where their bond would be tested.
“I was with him twenty-four hours a day throughout the week,” shared Emilia in an interview. “He was my patrol buddy, and I trusted him with everything in me.”
Her relationship with Zeus transcended simple dog-to-handler companionship, leading to a friendship Emilia had never experienced before. But unknown to her, the worst was about to happen.
Emilia and Zeus served for seven years before trouble struck. The issue was grave, resulting in Emilia losing her best friend for what felt like forever.
“Leaving the military was among the hardest things I’ve ever done,” a teary Emilia shared. “I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.” Although she’d try everything to try and stay in the army, it would be impossible.
The trouble started for Emilia when she realized she was developing problems with her hands. She kept dropping the leash while training other dogs or hanging out with Zeus.
Seeing that the issue negatively impacted her productivity as a servicewoman, Emilia went to get checked by a doctor. The result would force her to step down from the army.
Emilia’s visit to the doctor led to several appointments that left her shaken. She had several spinal injuries that needed medical attention immediately. Her visits would culminate in two spine surgeries that saved her life.
But although she was thankful, she knew everything had changed. She couldn’t serve in the army anymore and thus was medically retired. This would be the beginning of a very tough time in her life.
As a war vet, Emilia struggled to blend back into everyday life. Everything seemed even more difficult now that she didn’t have Zeus by her side.
She didn’t know how much she’d bonded with the dog before. Now that they were apart, the whole world was crumbling around her. Still, she fought to stay afloat amid all the changes in her life. She had no clue that she and her best friend would be reunited one day.
Emilia had spent two years without Zeus when she got a scary message on Instagram. She had tried her best to move on with her life by then, even enrolling in school for a social sciences degree.
The message was from a serviceman who was Zeus’s current handler. What he shared with Emilia left her worried out of her mind.
The message was simple enough, Zeus was retiring from the army as Emilia did two years before. The army had asked the handler if he wanted to take him home, but he preferred Emilia to have him instead.
But although the message was very positive, what it implied was what made Emilia well up with worry. She’d been a servicewoman for nearly a decade and, in this time, had seen the fate many war dogs met after their service.
Most dogs that serve in the army usually meet a horrifying fate when they retire if no one claims them. Although some are lucky enough to be assigned to their old handlers or their families if the handler is no longer around, most are euthanized.
The process sees the dog put down for good, mainly because of behavioral issues that might make it a danger to society, other pups, and even itself. Knowing such a truth, Emilia had to get to Zeus before it was too late.
Emilia responded to the message. She was half-excited because she would see her best friend again but half-scared of what might happen if she didn’t get to him in time.
She paused everything in her life, taking a break from her studies to fly to her old base. Maybe she’d get to Zeus before his superiors put him down for good.
“He’d always had temper issues in the past,” Emilia said, explaining why she feared the worst regarding Zeus’s situation. She’d seen pups with such issues get put down and knew if she didn’t get him, the base would be forced to euthanize him.
With her mind racing, Emilia boarded bus after bus until she reached her former base. She’d spent two days on the road, traveling during the day and spending her nights in motels. But was she too late?
The section where the dog kennels were kept was always filled with barks and whines. But amid the chaos, Emilia could hear Zeus’s distinct bark, which melted her heart.
She didn’t even go to the offices, choosing to run to her best friend first. She darted across the army paths, seeing Zeus jolt to his feet when he saw her coming.
Emilia had been in many reunions in her life. She’d met family and friends she’d not seen in eons. Yet none of those moments could evoke the same roaring emotions she felt as she sped to her dog. After a grueling two years apart, the two were finally together again. To make it better, Emilia had just saved Zeus from the fatal future looming over him. To her, that was a small price to pay for everything Zeus had done for her.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.