A bomb-sniffing combat dog named Mike survived two tours of duty in Iraq but not the streets of a bucolic little town in Wyoming.
The 9-year-old Belgian Malinois was shot and killed in Powell last Saturday by a bicyclist who said he was attacked, leaving Mike’s devastated owner Matthew Bessler, a retired Army Ranger, wondering how he is going to deal with his combat-related injuries alone.
“I raised him as a puppy, and the ability he has to sense some of the issues that I have with seizures, with my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), my TBI (traumatic brain injury) and severe anxiety disorders, how he can calm me down just by being in my presence,” Besseler told the Billings Gazette Friday. “He can help take the focus and help change the focus of what’s going on with me and help me calm down or relax me.”
Bessler, a 20-year Army vet, served six tours in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Carson, Colorado, with Mike his inseparable partner on two of those tours.
Their work detecting explosives and hunting insurgents over a 16-month period earned the pair two Bronze Stars,--one of military’s highest accolades, according to the Army, which profiled Bessler and Mike last July.
Their partnership lasted until one day Mike stopped sniffing for explosives, the Army said.
Bessler, 43, took the dog to a military vet in Baghdad who proscribed Prozac to calm the dog’s anxiety.
In 2010 they both came home with PTSD and according to Bessler, Mike’s is the Army’s first and only case.
In Powell, Mike became a service dog for Bessler, trained to anticipate and interrupt Bessler’s anxiety and darkest moods, usually by climbing on top of him or dropping a tennis ball in his lap, the Washington Post reported in a profile of the pair that also ran in July.
The paper reported that after then Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry saw the story, he called and offered to fund the cost of Bessler’s treatment at a Texas brain center.
His first question was about his dog, “Can I bring Mike?”
Bessler was hunting in the Bighorn Mountains when Mike was shot.
The bicyclist, 59, told the Park County Sheriff’s Office he was attacked by “German shepherd-looking dog” in an encounter in the road, the Powell Tribune reported. Authorities say somehow the dog got loose from Bessler's yard.
According to the account he gave deputies, he fended off the dog using his bicycle, and then grabbed a revolver from his bicycle-mounted holster, and shot the dog.
“Essentially, if you feel your life is in danger or threatened by an animal, you can act against it,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward told the paper Wednesday.
Bessler questions the bicyclist’s account, saying the dog was shot in the rear. “He has his story,” he told the Tribune. “I know my dog. I have my story.”
With the loss so fresh Bessler told the Gazette he had trouble coming up with specific memories of his four-legged friend.
“I mean, it’s way too soon,” he told the paper. “I mean, it’s every time I see him everywhere that I go. Because he was, he was with me almost everywhere I went and he was always playing and he was always ... he always wanted to play and everybody loved him. Everybody could pet him.” Bessler said.
Bessler added jokingly, “nobody had problems with him unless they had a ball.”