So began the roughly nine months in which Dyngo transitioned into domesticity and I adjusted to life with a retired war dog. During the early months, Dyngo admirably maintained his military duties. As we made our way down the hall from my apartment to the front door of the building, he would drop his nose down to the seam of each door we passed and give it a swift but thorough sniff—Dyngo was still hunting for bombs.
I tried to navigate him away from the line of cars parked along the leafy streets, where he tried to set his large black nose toward the curves of the tires. How could I convey to him that there were no bombs here? How could I make him understand that his nose was now entirely his own? The distant echo of a basketball bouncing blocks away began to fill me with dread. Giving him toys at home only seemed to amplify his obsession. Finally, seeing no other solution, I emptied the house of toys, though it felt cruel to deprive him of the only thing in his new home he actually wanted.
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Struggling for order, I set up a rigid Groundhog Day -like routine. Each day, we would wake at the same hour, eat meals at the same hour, travel the same walking paths and sit in the same spot on the floor together after every meal. I have no idea if anyone else ever heard me. In my mind, there was only this dog and my need to calm him.
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One night that summer, with the D. He could have reminded me of his early warnings, but instead he just sighed. My new apartment hardly felt like home. I felt like a captor. Sometimes, when Dyngo stared at me from behind the green bars of his borrowed crate, I wondered if he was thinking back to his days of leaping out of helicopters or nestling into the sides of soldiers against the chilly Afghan nights.
I began to consider the possibility that to this dog, I was mind-numbingly boring. Did he miss the sound of gunfire? Did he crave the adrenaline rush of hopping over walls and the struggle of human limbs between his teeth?
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What if, in my attempt to offer him a life of love and relaxation, I had stolen his identity, his sense of purpose and, ultimately, his happiness? Dogs have been sent to war for a variety of reasons. During World War I, dogs belonging to Allied forces were trained to deliver messages, navigating the trenches and braving bullets, bombs and gas exposure.
Back at war a generation later, they recognized incoming shellfire before human ears could hear it. In Vietnam, they found safe passages through the jungles, alerting their handlers to snipers and booby traps. In Iraq and Afghanistan, their extraordinary sense of smell was able to outpace every technological advance made in the detection of IEDs.
Altogether, the United States has deployed thousands of dogs to combat zones and, depending on the war, their tours have lasted months to years. Chaney developed a fear of thunderstorms—which was strange, Hatala says, because he had never before been scared of thunder, or even of gunfire or bombs. The two had served together in Fallujah, Iraq, in , where the fighting was raw and bloody. I remember my dog almost every single day. The entrails are strewn everywhere. The remains of his industrial-sized rope toy lie tangled across his front legs.
He sits in the midst of it all, panting, grinning, Dyngo the Destroyer.
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His world now includes toys again. He has learned how to play, maybe for the first time, without anxiety. The borrowed crate was dismantled last year. A big fancy dog bed has become his daytime nap station. His flank-sucking has all but disappeared.
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All the rugs lie in place, all the couch cushions and throw pillows sit idle and unthreatened. We are rarely more than a few feet apart—he follows me around, my lumbering guardian. He is now truly my dog. The force of that love hits me in all kinds of moments—at the sight of his sleeping face, or when he drops his giant head in my lap, closing his eyes and sighing his happiest grunting sigh. Or during the chilling anticipation at the vet when he needed a potentially cancerous cyst biopsied.
It was benign. I can take Dyngo out without reservations now. He is gentle with dogs who are smaller or frailer than he is. Much to the shock of his former handlers, he has even befriended a feisty black cat called Sven. We sometimes walk with an elderly neighbor from her car to the building, helping her with her groceries.
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