Stories about the incredible things all service dogs do for people have always amazed me. These dogs have an incredible drive to perform their duties to comfort, aid, and protect those that they consider to be part of their pack. The most extreme examples of this are the Military War Dogs that our soldiers rely on to detect explosives and take down bad guys in some of the worst environments imaginable. Recently, I watched a documentary called, “War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend”. This documentary told the story of three dogs and their handlers. All three stories were very touching, but one of the stories really exemplifies how these dogs will do anything to protect those around them without regard for the consequences.

The documentary opens with a man named Dave Nielsen going through a box of things collected from his time in the military. He picks up a letter and begins reading aloud. It is a letter that he wrote to his dog, Pepper. As he reads, we find out that his dog died in battle more than ten years ago and her body was never recovered. We also find out that Pepper willingly engaged the enemy that threatened her pack, her fellow soldiers. Pepper’s brave action enabled the soldiers to take out the terrorist. The letter ends, “We will never know who he was, but this we do know. He was bad, he intended us harm, and nobody else wanted to go in after him. You did. You are a warrior I hold in highest regard. You are selfless love. God bless you until we meet again. Thank You”.

Later in the documentary, we learn more details about Pepper’s story. Although Dave was Pepper’s handler, Pepper was truly a member of the unit. Everyone considered Pepper every much as much of a soldier as everyone else in the unit. In addition, Pepper became somewhat of a therapist for Dave’s whole unit. She would make rounds in the barracks and visit with everyone. Dave said she had a sense of humor and he would often hear soldiers laughing at her as she visited with them. At other times, she would console everyone if someone in the unit was killed. She was truly one of them.

Pepper’s last mission occurred the night after the death of one of the soldiers in the unit. The unit was trying to get a target that was hiding in a hole along the Tigris River. There were houses all along the river, so they couldn’t just bomb the area. They tried for hours to get the target, but he was positioned in a way that they just couldn’t get at him. Pepper knew they were trying to get this guy and she ran from one soldier to the next as if asking permission to be sent to get the target. Dave knew it was very dangerous and didn’t want to send her, but they were out of options. Dave sent her once and fifteen minutes later she came back wet and somewhat dazed. Dave checked her over and within a couple minutes she seemed back to normal. He tried to hug on her for a little while, but she didn’t want comforted. She wanted to go back to work.

After several more hours of trying to get this guy, Dave finally decided to send Pepper again. She took off into the grass and then stopped and turned to look at Dave. Dave said she had a look in her eyes that he had never seen before. It was as if she was saying, “I love you. I am doing this for you. See you later.” She took off and pushed the target out of the hole and he was shot and killed. The unit looked for Pepper until they were told they had to leave. The sun was coming up and staying longer would have risked more lives lost. Dave is convinced that Pepper knew exactly what she was doing. She was doing everything she could do to save those in her pack. She did what any soldier would do for another soldier.

This Christmas season I will remember this story of sacrifice and the fact that we still have military all over the world continuing to sacrifice for their country. After all, Christmas is a celebration of the biggest sacrifice of all time. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. God sent Jesus from heaven to be born and live on this sin-filled earth knowing He would eventually suffer a cruel, painful death. This was done for me. This was done for you. Selfless love. Merry Christmas!

Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for 20 years. He sees dogs, cats, ferret, and other little furry critters.