Last weekend, military service dog Major Mike was shot and killed by bicyclist while his owner, former Ranger Sgt. Matthew Bessler, was out of town. As Mike’s story has spread and sympathetic Americans have raised money for the canine veteran’s funeral and local memorial, Bessler is working to get his dog buried with military honors.
There is one caveat: war dogs are not allowed to be buried with military honors.
Though Mike served two tours in Iraq, earned two Bronze Stars for his service and was promoted to major after his retirement, he isn’t entitled to any posthumous honors or a proper military burial because he is a dog. Bessler and his community hope to change that policy.
“He’s retired just like I’m retired,” Bessler said. “I’ll receive military honors. I’m a veteran. He’s a veteran…dog.”
Bessler was assigned Mike as his military dog when he was just a pup. During his tours of duty, Mike sniffed for bombs, chased enemies and saved lives alongside Bessler’s Special Forces unit. Both man and dog returned home from Iraq with PTSD and became even more inseparable when they moved to Wyoming.
“I lost a great companion. Me and him were healing together,” Bessler said.
Though they can receive medals of valor, war dogs don’t qualify for any retiree benefits. Oftentimes, military dogs that serve overseas never return home at all, but are separated from their bonded handlers and adopted out in a foreign country. A new Congressional bill called Military Working Dogs Retirement Act is working to revise these policies and bring war dogs home.