Superheroes come in all forms, and my favorite ones have fur, four-legs, wagging tails and distinguished service records on the battlefields in the war on terror.

The power of the human-animal bond is mysterious and inspirational. What I know is that both two and four-legged veterans deserve the chance to retire together with dignity, and that the four-legged veterans deserve more than they get today.

I am an advocate for war dogs, their handlers and the incredible humane bond that exists between the two. The bond between service members and their military working dog (MWD) or contract working dog (CWD) is powerful, and can be healing after their return from the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan. The healing happens on both ends of the leash as the invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress (PTS), impact both humans and animals. 

The power of the human-animal bond is mysterious and inspirational. What I know is that both two and four-legged veterans deserve the chance to retire together with dignity, and that the four-legged veterans deserve more than they get today.

One story of healing and hope is United States Marine Corporal Jeff DeYoung and MWD Cena N641. 

Their story began in August 2009, when at 19-years-old, Jeff went to special handler training school to learn how to handle and care for Cena in Afghanistan. 

After training, Jeff and Cena found themselves in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a far cry from home in Muskegon, Michigan. They supported combat operations and counter improvised explosive device warfare, and were wounded in the line of duty. However, the team continued their missions and participated in Operation Moshturok, the largest operation in Afghanistan at that time. The pair spent three months living out of a backpack, dealing with sandstorms, floods and hailstorms. Their battle bond was formed out of necessity and out of unconditional love. 

One harsh day on the battlefields, Jeff used his own body to protect his battle buddy Cena from sporadic machine gun fire. They made it to Marjah alive. Together, they witnessed tragic losses, unimaginable conditions and the reality of modern warfare.

Jeff and Cena were separated on April 25, 2010 after Jeff’s deployment ended. But, Jeff’s battle with PTS was just beginning as he returned home alone, and all he wanted was his dog back. To Jeff, Cena wasn’t just a dog owned by the military, a piece of equipment for use in the war on terror. Cena was his best friend.  

PTS is real for veterans, these young men and women who sacrifice so much for America's freedom. For Jeff, his battle with PTS was his private hell, and his only wish was to see Cena again. He was always on the lookout for black labs that would remind him of his battle buddy.

Like so many other veterans, depression and a suicide attempt were Jeff’s new reality. That was until June 5, 2014 when MWD Cena was retired and adopted by Jeff. The battle buddies were reunited, and the healing process began. 

Jeff reports that his PTS is 80% less than last year. He suffers from the occasional nightmare, and so does Cena. Not many people know that military service dogs can also suffer from PTS as well. But, these battle buddies find solace, hope and peace with each other. 

The power of the human-animal bond is mysterious and inspirational. What I know is that both two and four-legged veterans deserve the chance to retire together with dignity, and that the four-legged veterans deserve more than they get today.

Americans who love and admire all those who serve our nation would be surprised to learn that MWDs and CWDs are considered equipment. And, while MWDs are provided with some assurances of being returned to the United States for their retirement, that is not the case for CWDs.

We need to do much better by our four-legged superheroes who serve our country. Therefore, Jeff, Cena and I along with another pair of battle buddies Brent Grommet and Matty will be on Capitol Hill this week to discuss with members of Congress, a legislative proposal we are calling Matty’s Wish. This legislation will, among other things, make it easier to reunite all of our MWDs and CWDs with their human handlers.

This effort is fitting considering it is estimated that each MWD and CWD saves the lives of between 150-200 service members. American Humane Association is committed to be the voice for our canine battle buddies who are suffering from the invisible wounds of war. Superheroes on both ends of the leash, together at last.

Robin R. Ganzert, Ph.D, is president and CEO of the American Humane Association.