Military Working Dog Gabe started his Army career in a rare way, escaping near-euthanasia in a Texas shelter before becoming a remarkably successful working dog and a celebrity loved by famous humans, like Betty White and Jay Leno.
Gabe is credited with going on 210 combat missions and finding 26 caches of weapons and explosives before retiring to live with his handler in 2009 as a sergeant first class. He passed away in his handler's arms in 2013.
Most military working dogs are purchased from European breeders and raised from birth to work in military units or police agencies. But the U.S. was running short on good dogs, and it has always allowed the occasional stray into the ranks. Gabe was one of those strays.
He had been sitting in a shelter where he was reportedly a day away from euthanasia when the Southeast Texas Labrador Retriever Rescue Organization pulled him out. The Army found him then and tested him for potential as a military working dog. He passed and was assigned to Army Staff Sgt. Charles Shuck.
The team trained together as a Specialized Search Dog team, a then-new program that focused on entirely detecting IED and IED-making components. Dogs in the SSD program don't search for drugs. They don't search for cadavers. They don't chase.
Gabe visits with actor Betty White.
They find bombs. They find them in combat, in the burning desert, and sometimes under fire. Gabe finished a five-month training iteration and was the rock star of the class. After they graduated, Shuck's commander asked if they could deploy to Iraq. They needed Gabe in the show.
And so he went, and Gabe and Shuck were quickly favorites with troops on the ground. They rolled out often, 210 times in a single deployment. Of those missions, 170 were combat patrols where they led columns of soldiers through dangerous areas, smelling for the tell-tale scents of IEDs.
And Gabe was able to find the goods. In one case, he hit on 36 mortar rounds stashed by insurgents. Mortar rounds are popular tools for bomb makers because their explosives are reliable and powerful. Recovering them saves lives. Gabe also visited soldiers during his deployment, improving morale.
Gabe would eventually garner three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, and dozens of military coins and other awards. In 2008, he received the Heroic Military Working Dog Award Medal from the American Kennel Club.
Gabe visiting with children in a school.
But Gabe was senior and needed to retire soon after the deployment, something he did in 2009. The Army allowed Shuck, Gabe's only handler, to adopt him. He visited schools and hospitals and became a celebrity, appearing in photos with Betty White and Jay Leno.
The heroic dog enjoyed almost four years of retirement, but cancer had stealthily crept through his liver and spleen. It was discovered in February 2013, but it was far too late to operate.
Shuck made the decision to have Gabe put to sleep and cradled him as he passed.