In one of the year’s great dog tales, a hero K-9 team who saved lives in Iraq and Afghanistan are reunited in civilian life—after a separation of nearly three years.
In June, U.S. Army veteran Staff Sergeant James Harrington, of Mandeville, Louisiana, took possession of retired K-9 Sergeant 1st Class Ryky, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois. The explosive-detecting dog and her handler served hundreds of missions together over four years, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their big moment came in 2011, in a daring rescue of fellow soldiers wounded in an ambush. “Both of our training just kicked in and we did what we were trained to do without thinking,” says Harrington, who won a Bronze Star for his and Ryky’s heroics.
Three months later, Harrington’s nine-year Army career came to a close. Ryky was assigned a new handler. But Harrington couldn’t forget his old partner. He kept in regular contact with the new handler and sent Ryky care packages.
In 2012, during another tour in Afghanistan, the new handler was injured and sent home to the States. So was Ryky, nearing the end of her military career. Army handlers have the option of adopting their retired K-9s. When Ryky’s handler declined, Harrington was notified that he was next in line to adopt the heroic Malinois.
Harrington, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is training Ryky as his service dog. He says, “She saved me and other soldiers, and now she’s going to continue to save me emotionally as we go along.” As he teaches his old dog new tricks, Harrington hopes to benefit from the well-documented healing power of canine love and devotion. “She is my prescription,” he says. “She helps me that way.”