The amazing way the military says goodbye to working dogs

Military working dogs are some of America’s hardest working service members. They find IEDs, drugs, victims of natural disasters, and dozens of other things. They also serve beside special operators and engage enemies with their human counterparts.

Unfortunately, they also live shorter lives than their humans.

That means that nearly every human handler will one day have to say goodbye to their friend and partner. The military allows handlers to go through a process that ensures the humans get one last day of bonding with their animals and the dogs receive a dignified sendoff.

Retired U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog, Mica T204, carries a toy while waiting for her final patrol to begin Nov. 14, 2016 at Tyndall Air Force Base. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

Retired U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog, Mica T204, carries a toy while waiting for her final patrol to begin Nov. 14, 2016, at Tyndall Air Force Base. (Photo and cutline: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

First, a decision is made about who will handle the canine during their final day. This is often the current handler assigned to the dog or the person who adopted them upon their retirement, but it could also be someone who spent a long time with the animal or who bonded most strongly with them.

This handler and other service members who love the dog will spend time playing together one last time.

Retired U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog, Mica T204, greets former coworkers from the 325th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dog section one last time before her symbolic final patrol Nov. 14, 2016 at Tyndall Air Force Base. Mica was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and was retired from service February 2016. Major Mari Metzler, 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace physiology flight commander, adopted Mica after she was released from the MWD section. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz/Released)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

Then, the canine is taken for a “Final Patrol” or, sometimes, a “Final Walk.” Depending on the installation and the dog, this can be anything from a low-key walk around some of the greener parts of the base to a full-fledged parade down the base’s main drag.

"Trust in me my friend, for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my last breath. When all others have left you and the loneliness of night closes in, I will be at your side." - "Guardians of the Night" - Poem by Unknown Author The bond between a Military Working Dog (MWD) and their handler is one that only few can understand. MWD Riko, born August 19th, 2008, was euthanized on October 28, 2016 at the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center. Riko was escort by the police of Fort Belvoir to the veterinary center and was rendered final honors during his last walk. Riko was surround by his former handlers during his final day. Riko joined the 947th MP detachment on the 2nd of January 2010. MWD Rikos accomplishments include over 100 MWD demos, over 15,000 patrol hours, 50 health and welfare missions, over 40 narcotics detected, and notable the largest find of marijuana in the last five years. Over his career he had three handlers with the last being SSG Fenstermacher unit his PCS in 2015. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

(U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

Sometimes, the dogs may be too sick or old to conduct the final patrol on their own. In those circumstances, the units will arrange an escort with handlers and other people who loved and respected them.

Retired U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog, Mica T204, is escorted to the Tyndall Veterinary Clinic during her final patrol Nov. 14, 2016 at Tyndall Air Force Base. Mica served with the 325th Security Forces Squadron and supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, and Inherent Resolve. (U.S Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz/Released)

(U.S Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

At the end of the final patrol, a human with close ties to the dog will walk them past a final salute.

"Trust in me my friend, for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my last breath. When all others have left you and the loneliness of night closes in, I will be at your side." - "Guardians of the Night" - Poem by Unknown Author The bond between a Military Working Dog (MWD) and their handler is one that only few can understand. MWD Riko, born August 19th, 2008, was euthanized on October 28, 2016 at the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center. Riko was escort by the police of Fort Belvoir to the veterinary center and was rendered final honors during his last walk. Riko was surround by his former handlers during his final day. Riko joined the 947th MP detachment on the 2nd of January 2010. MWD Rikos accomplishments include over 100 MWD demos, over 15,000 patrol hours, 50 health and welfare missions, over 40 narcotics detected, and notable the largest find of marijuana in the last five years. Over his career he had three handlers with the last being SSG Fenstermacher unit his PCS in 2015. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

Service members line the walk to render honors to the animals who have served faithfully. This will be the last chance for many of the humans to express their gratitude.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)

Inside the clinic, veterinarians will begin the euthanization process while handlers comfort the dogs.

"Trust in me my friend, for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my last breath. When all others have left you and the loneliness of night closes in, I will be at your side." - "Guardians of the Night" - Poem by Unknown Author The bond between a Military Working Dog (MWD) and their handler is one that only few can understand. MWD Riko, born August 19th, 2008, was euthanized on October 28, 2016 at the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center. Riko was escort by the police of Fort Belvoir to the veterinary center and was rendered final honors during his last walk. Riko was surround by his former handlers during his final day. Riko joined the 947th MP detachment on the 2nd of January 2010. MWD Rikos accomplishments include over 100 MWD demos, over 15,000 patrol hours, 50 health and welfare missions, over 40 narcotics detected, and notable the largest find of marijuana in the last five years. Over his career he had three handlers with the last being SSG Fenstermacher unit his PCS in 2015. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

The handlers stay with the dogs until the end.

U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Drew Risley, a military working dog (MWD) handler, comforts Brix, a retired Navy MWD, before the dog is put to sleep at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., July 18, 2014. Brix was euthanized due to health issues. He earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Army Commendation Medal while deployed to Iraq. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristin English/Released)

Brix, a retired Navy MWD, is comforted by Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Drew Risley before Brix’s euthanization. Brix earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Army Commendation Medal in Iraq. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristin English)

Once it is done, the dog is draped with the flag and prepared for their final rest. Usually, the dogs are cremated.

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

Handlers and other members of the unit will then hold a memorial ceremony with a display of a kennel, a tipped dish, a collar and leash, and sometimes the dog’s ashes.

Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and a native of Sacramento, Calif., salutes during a Feb. 9 memorial service at Miesau Chapel for Cak, a local military working dog who was put to rest in December. (Photo by Elisabeth Paqué, 7th U.S. Army Joint Multinational Training Command)

Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and a native of Sacramento, Calif., salutes during a Feb. 9, 2015, memorial service at Miesau Chapel for Cak, a local military working dog who was put to rest in December. (Photo and cutline: Elisabeth Paqué)

The handlers then have to overcome their grief and find a new partner to work with.

Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and a native of Sacramento, Calif., runs beside Beny as he trains at the Miesau Army Depot Kennels Feb. 18. (Photo by Brandon Beach, 21st Theater Sustainment Command)

Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment, runs beside MWD Beny as he trains at the Miesau Army Depot Kennels in Germany on Feb. 18. (Photo by Brandon Beach)

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