Marine kissing dog

A Dog Saves a Soldier

Recently someone asked me why dogs are so important to me. It would seem justifiably poetic if I told you I was saved by a military working dog in Iraq or Afghanistan saved, but I can’t.

However a dog saved something so much more important than my life. This is one of the many reasons I am so passionate about the power of the pooch.Little Ann and Old Dan

In my post What is a Soldier’s Inspiration to Write a novel in Afghanistan?, I mention that the first book that really made an impact on me was Where the Red Fern grows by Wilson Rawls. I grew up wanting my own Old Dan and Little Ann.

I received my first dog when I was eight, a dachshund named Alfie. When I was 13, I came home from school and my beloved Alfie had been removed from the house. Allegedly, she nipped at a small child who was teasing her. I was heartbroken.

In college I was promised a dog by my then-girlfriend (later to be my wife) if—not when—I graduated from college. Seems like there was some lingering doubt about my potential! Eight years after graduation there was still no dog. Then I got a shock that would rock my entire world, shake me to my core and cause me to take action.

I was a company commander of a 200-soldier company deployed to northwestern Baghdad. My company was charged with picking up the crumbling pieces of the failing Iraqi Police Force in five districts with a total of 17 police stations. Four of the stations had been overrun and ransacked two weeks prior to my company’s taking the mission. It was a challenging mission and my troops and I were in harm’s way, getting shot at and blown up every day. Check out the LA Times article for a snippet of my life that year.

In December of 2004, nine months into the deployment, I went home for mid-tour leave. (I left my female Executive Officer in charge of the 200 Soldier Company, by the way, and she kicked ass.)

During leave in the beautiful Austrian Alps my now ex-wife told me she wasn’t happy in our marriage and didn’t love me like I loved her. In retrospect I should have recognized some of the signals, but I had unconditional faith in a person I had been married to for seven years and together with for thirteen years. I believed our love was unconditional.  I knew that constant deployments were causing stress to our relationship but rationalized that the stress was temporary, the marriage was forever. I was wrong.

A Soldier and his military working dog nose to noseNeedless to say, I flew back to Iraq a shell of myself. On the flight back I decided I was getting a faithful dog when I returned. A dog would never leave you, right?

My company, the 127th Military Police Company, was and still is my family. I rallied for them, but what helped me get through the last few months was spending my sacred few free moments searching for a dog with my company First Sergeant, Damien McIntosh. He was getting a beagle and I settled on a breed I’d never heard of because they reminded me of Little Ann and Old Dan.

Fast forward to late summer 2005. My wife and I had just moved to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri and I went to Kentucky to pick up my new pal, a Vizsla named Sammy, who became my new best friend. As my marriage  continued to fall apart, the one consistent thing in my life was Sammy. I had had to give up command of my company to move to Missouri and I was an instructor for future platoon leaders and company commanders at the U.S. Army Military Police School at the time. Any of my students will tell you that I took Sammy everywhere.

Then my wife moved out, we divorced and I was alone. I was once on top of the world and now my world was blown apart. My company was gone and now the person I invested the last 13 years of my life had left me as well. I lost two families within six months. I was a wreck or a person and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without Sammy. He was there for me every day, anytime, to love, play and cuddle. I found strength and the will to push forward through his unconditional love for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He was and still is my rock.

So, no, my life wasn’t saved by a dog. My soul was. Sammy Adams Hanrahan is a soul-saver.

 

Sammy Adams Hanrahan

 

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47 thoughts on “A Dog Saves a Soldier

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you Dawn. Sammy is still my best pal….although his sister Stella will melt your heart as well.

      Reply
  1. A. Whittenberger

    Kev, I am teary eyed but kind of understand how you feel….when I moved out I got myself a yorkie…he “saved” me as well…..he helped me get through a lot. I love your story. May God Bless you and your family always. I am soo happy that both you and your ex are in a happier place now.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you Annette. In retrospect it is the best thing to ever happen to me. Look at my life now. I can be myself, I have a loving and warm family and have never been happier. :-)

      Reply
  2. barbara longley

    Yeah, but… I wanna hear about how you met your now and forever wife, and how you got into the dog training branch of the military, and now you have the new little Hanrahan, and…

    Sigh. Love that you share all of this with us. My kids keep telling me I should write a book about my commune hippy days of the 70s. Not gonna do that! You’re braver than I am.

    Thank you, Kevin. I’m lining up at the bookstore at 12:01AM when your book comes out. Just know that.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks so much Barbara. Meg and I met on the internet. As a Military Police Officer, working dogs are part of our organizations.

      I will work on a post for you about how I lived and breathed dogs in Afghanistan for a year.

      Hippe commune? Now that sounds like fun. I too want to know more! LOL.

      Reply
      1. barbara longley

        I lived on a dairy farming commune in the Appalachian mountains. No running water or electricity. We farmed with work horses, burned wood for fuel, and lived simply. It was good, but of course, I followed a boy there, and once THAT fell apart, I moved on to modern conveniences pretty quick.
        :0)

        Reply
        1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

          Awesome Barbara.

          Farm and Apalachian mountains…that is all I need! Did you say no electricity and water? O my!

          Funny what we will do when we are young, huh?

          Reply
  3. jennifer

    Kevin., what a touching story. We have known you since 1998 but didn’t understand where your passion for dogs came from. We knew how you loved our big guy TJ but we were certain something more caused your powerful dedication to dogs. Now we know!! Thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks Jen. I always loved that goofy TJ you guys had. He reminded me of Marmaduke…… I loved those kids books when I was young.

      It is very freeing for me to openly talk about this. I think it is the final step in the healing process.

      Reply
  4. Diana P

    A beautiful tale of the unconditional love our 4-legged companions dish out every day. Sammy just might have actually saved your life, sir.

    Reply
  5. ksm

    Hanrahan, I admire your candour and feel very humbled to be privy to your personal evolution. You have paid a high price for your service as a soldier in the name of democracy. For those of us who have never experienced life in the war zone and never made the sacrifices you and your comrades have, it is a blinding eye opener. I am so grateful that nobility has existed in the face of such huge loss and despair – that you have turned your sad memories into a love of dogs. I hope that in your life time you are repaid with the love and security you lost and your experiences going forward are more heaven then hell on earth. I hope you always find an outlet in your writing as your articles certainly pave the way for a better understanding :o) ksm

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful words. I know I am a stronger person now. I also feel my experience allows me to relate to troops that have gone or are going through similar experiences. I hope it has made me a better leader.

      Reply
  6. eas

    A favorite saying I once misunderstood…marriage is not a matter of finding the right person…but a matter of being the right person. I thought this meant being the right person for the man I married, All he wanted me to be, do, say… No, it is very hard to be the right person, the “authentic you”, Who is that? You are on that journey…confusing, difficult, overwhelming at times. But oh how great to be Kevin.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      What a cool saying….thanks for sharing! My life is exactly where I wanted it now. I just hit some speed bumps along the way. Those bumps are character builders and have led me to where I am today….. in a wonderful place.

      Reply
  7. Bonnie

    Hi Kevin

    Thank you so much for sharing so beautifully the story of love between you and your dog. I know this connection is one that goes very deep. It sounds like your beautiful Sammy is your heart dog; a kind of soul mate.

    I heard this once…perhaps you will feel the truth in it as I did. “Not all angels have wings, some have four paws’

    Blessings to you and Sammy

    Reply
  8. Adriana Johnson

    Kevin,

    Blogging continues to amaze me. I found out some things about my close friend from one of her posts. Thank you for being courageous,open and transparent to lead on in the way you open your door. Experience is like a war wound a scar that takes us far. Along lifes journey we pick up aptitudes of passion to fight for what gave us might. That is what you did in this blog. You connected your readers with your wonder, your plunder and your pain that gave your heart a stain. Then you turned it into good and kept the point on track. When we share we enourage others. Keep on keeping on Kevin. You know this but I believe you can never get or give enough encouragment. You got this soldier:)

    Sincerely,
    Adriana Johnson

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you Adriana. Life is a mysterious journey and one full of pitfalls and triumphs. I believe that those pitfalls allow you to develop into who you are as a person. My love of dogs was reinvigorated through this pitfall….how lucky was I? :)

      Reply
  9. pinknebula

    I found your blog while avoiding studying for finals – great writing and content! Your current wife is a lucky woman:) Back to History of Intelligence & Espionage…

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks so much. I’ll be sure to remind her of that….though she seems unconvinced when I reported this fact to her the other day! Good luck with studying! :)

      Reply
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  12. Deb Dahl

    My own power of the pooch story……a few years ago I was mistakenly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and two things IMMEDIATELY went through my mind….
    1. I looked at my husband and long-time love of 30 plus years and thought, “I’m not going to grow old with this man.”
    2. If I’m going tom have to go through some serious shit, I NEED A DOG!!!
    Turns out that I did not have cancer BUT our application to adopt a retired Saudi Aramco bomb dog was approved and we GOT THE CALL that an 11 and a half year old, newly retired golden lab….Zeus…was up for adoption.
    It was an honor and a privilege to love Zeus for three years.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      That is an amazing story Deb. Thank you for sharing. Thank goodness the doctors were long….. and look where it lead you- to Zeus. (You know I love that name) We featured a Thor here on the site a few weeks ago! Again, so happy the docs were wrong!

      Reply
  13. LoyaltyOfDogs

    Besides sharing unconditional love, they always react with pure, honest, emotion in ways that people cannot, and I think this is the basis for their amazing capacity to help people who are suffering. Dogs help people grieve with true compassion, and they also help people celebrate with absolute abandon. There is nothing more joyful than a happy dog (as so many videos of returning US military personnel greeting their dogs have been reminding us lately). Thanks for sharing your powerful story.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      It is an honor. I think our troops should know that it is OK to struggle with life’s challenges. You aren’t defined by the struggle……it is how you rebound from the struggle that one is judged. :-)

      Reply
  14. Jani Muhlestein

    Just read the Times article. Have Meg hug you really tight for me when you see her tonight. You are so damn lucky to be alive. How many times did she come close to never even meeting you?

    Kevin, there are no words to thank you for that kind of service. Nothing that we, your fellow Americans can possibly do to pay you back. We can only be grateful that our beautiful nation pre-paid you. That the blood of those who came before was enough for all of us.

    Please tell your soldiers that we honor them, and that we know full well that their sacrifice cannot be repaid except in kind. I do not want my baby girl going through that kind of horror. But I know she might. I can’t make that choice for her, much as I would like to. All I can do is to be grateful that you, and your brothers and sisters in arms, and your magnificent furry children are making such a difference in the world where she will serve.

    I am so glad that you have a wife who understands something that your former wife didn’t: that there are men who are worth waiting for.

    Reply
  15. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    You now I don’t know if she ever read that article Jani. Probably better that she doesn’t . We didn’t lose any troops that day but several innocent Iraqis dies needlessly that day in the explosion.

    Thank you…I know I am a lucky guy. My life is so much better now. Plus I have a little mini me now!

    Reply
    1. Jani Muhlestein

      And that mini-me is going to be the single-hardest thing you’ll ever do. Except for the 6 daughters that I’ve cursed you with. ‘Cause that is totally happening.

      My suspicion is that she’s read it, because wives do that sort of stuff, they just don’t mention it. And if she hasn’t, then it doesn’t matter. She knows. She’s not stupid. And she chose you with her eyes open. And still thinks she’s lucky. Which she is. (But so are you.)

      Reply
  16. Bobby Wingate

    Sir Thank you for sharing this outstanding story. Thank You for Your service to Our Country and your continued dedication,support, hard work for Our Warrior’s Their Families and OUR COUNTRY. GBU ALL THE WAY SIR AND THEN SOME

    Reply
  17. Carole Remy

    Hi Kevin,

    So glad I followed the jump here from today’s story! My Gemma is your Sammy. Since I rescued her from the side of a highway in Alabama, we’ve lived together for almost twelve years in five different states and now Mexico. How lucky we all are!

    Sometimes you have to let go to find the right path, and it sounds like that’s what you did. Congrats to you and Meg!

    Carole

    Reply
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  19. Ali Protheroee

    What an amazing, lovely story.

    I lost the love of my life in a bike race, he was an officer in the Royal Navy so i completely understand how your dog changed your life.
    My dog, a very beautiful little cocker spaniel saved me bless her, i now leave the house as i know she needs a walk. They are the most amazing creatures who just understand so much.

    I have done alot of grieving with my Jessie and feel like i have put alot n her shoulders but she still loves me unconditionally.
    I love your photo”s too, the top one is so beatuiful, a man who is not afraid to show love for his dog.
    You do an amazing job, keep safe x

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Ali. did he crash his bike? How terrible…… I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.

      It is amazing how dogs can provide that comfort and ask for so little in return…….. :-)

      Reply
      1. Ali Protheroee

        Hi,
        Yes he did, he was a very experienced rider but many factors on race day i guess, the most dangerour track in the world.
        It was so unexpected and so sudden, still seems like yesterday.
        Your right dogs do ask for so little in return, mine does get to sleep on my bed tho and is spoilt rotten but she so deserves it after looking after me ;-) x

        Reply
  20. Cindy R Davis

    Yet another incredible journey from your life we get to experience here. Thank you for sharing such memories both good and bad and the love so many of us have experienced from dogs. Unconditional and everlasting.
    Thank you Kevin. Loooove reading your blog.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Cindy!. Thank you. Sammy is still my best pal to this day…..you should see him…. he is so focused on me….always faithful. :-)

      Reply
  21. Ana

    Beautiful story…sad and at the same time …so true! I was also saved by my dogs, I had many problems, but the furst one was always there for me…he was killed by another dog….and the one I hav now is my only family…..none in my family is as close and as good and faithfull as he is…they are a Blessing! God Bless you both!!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      So sorry to hear about your first pup Ana, that is terrible. I always worry about “hooligan” dogs because mine are generally so friendly with other dogs.

      Reply
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