Honza Bear Roars and Then Sputters
You may wish to read Part I, John and the Lumbering “Honza Bear”, of this series first before reading Part II below.
Specialist John Nolan looked down at the seven-year-old black lab. He put his hand out for her to sniff. He felt her wet nose and watched as she wagged her tail slowly. She sniffed him cautiously. John stroked her head. She nudged his hand with her snout. John knew she was satisfied with her investigation of him.
John looked over at his other pal, the yellow Labrador Honza, who was watching the meeting through his chain link kennel. Honza let out a groan as he stretched his front paws forward. He placed his square head down on them. He never took his eyes off of John.
John sighed and thought this didn’t compare to the greeting he had received from Honza a week before.
“Lucy is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. She knows what she is doing. She doesn’t take all day to do it,” said the instructor as he eyed Honza, who let out a slight sigh as he opened his mouth wide for a 30-second yawn. John could see the dog’s wet pink tongue fall and hang out of the side of his mouth.
John could feel those brown eyes. He knew Honza was staring at him. He felt his stomach churn. Why did he feel guilty about petting Lucy? Shouldn’t he pair up with Lucy? She had two deployments already. She would be his best bet for survival in a combat zone, right?
During the specialized search dog course that followed their meeting, Lucy became John’s primary dog. But his heart lingered with Honza. His instructors were determined to pair him with Lucy, yet John spent his free time conducting extra training with Honza who he thought might be starting to come around.
One day during training John’s senior instructor pulled him aside after watching him and Honza work a training problem and asked, “Nolan, what have you done to Honza? I’ve never seen him work this well for anyone else. Heck, I’ve never seen him work this well, period.”
John was elated and replied, “He just gets me Sergeant. And I get him. He may be slow, but he is thorough. I’m okay with him being thorough when we are searching for things that could blow us up.”
As his instructor walked away John knelt down to pet Honza who had flipped over on his back. As John stroked his belly Honza began making grumbling noises that sounded like a bear.
Honza Bear was starting to come around.
By the end of the course there was no doubt that Lucy was a better search dog and John’s instructors urged him to choose her instead of Honza. But John’s heart already belonged to The Bear. When John departed dog school for Virginia it was the big yellow head of Honza Bear sticking out of his car, ears flapping and tongue hanging in the breeze. John was ready to take his chances with the Lumbering Honza Bear.
Soon he would wonder, though, had he made a mistake when he followed his heart instead of his brain?
This was the question John asked himself three months prior to his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. John and Honza were preparing for a deployment with a Special Forces Unit in December. There was one small problem though.
Honza had bombed certification. Certification is a requirement for a dog team to deploy. It is a series of trials to test a team’s proficiency in finding explosives. An explosive team must certify at 95% proficiency or they aren’t allowed to work as a team.
That meant that three months before John and Honza were supposed to deploy they were uncertified and unsure of their future as a team.
Once again John wondered, should he have chosen the grizzled combat veteran Lucy?
He knelt down and Honza leaped up on his knee and pushed his body against him. John pulled him tight and pushed his nose against the wet nose of Honza and asked, “Can you do this, pal? You know I need you. I take care of you and you take care of me. That is how this works. Got it?”
Honza let out a crisp series of loud barks. John hoped Honza understood because if he didn’t they wouldn’t be doing anything together for much longer. He would have to get a new dog and who knew what would happen to Honza Bear. John knew they must pass certification on their next chance.
Did John make a mistake by following his heart instead of his brain?
Should John have chosen the grizzled combat veteran Lucy?
Will they pass certification and deploy as a team?
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