TORONTO – The steps of the State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia played host to a touching and remarkable reunion Wednesday – one with multiple layers of both joy and heartbreak.
At the centre of the story is Spike, a black Labrador with a record of service to his country as remarkable as any human’s.
On Wednesday, he was reunited with U.S. Marine Corporal Jared Heine, who was Spike’s handler in a Marine K-9 unit in Afghanistan.
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Heine and Spike’s job was especially hazardous, as the K-9 unit was tasked with clearing the Marines’ patrol route of explosive devices. During their time together, they developed a very close bond.
“He was like my brother, my kid,” Heine told CBS News. “He slept with me every day, like we were inseparable like 24/7.”
But the work, whether for human or canine, came with a great cost.
“We found a couple of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), unfortunately we did have three of them go off on us,” Heine said. “So he’s been through a lot, same as me.”
Corporal Heine was eventually discharged from the Marines, suffering from a series of traumatic brain injuries and battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Heine’s mother Mary says since returning from Afghanistan, her son has not been the same. So she decided to try to make a difference in his life by tracking down Spike’s whereabouts.
“Jared’s been dealing with a lot lately, and speaks of Spike all the time and just hasn’t been himself,” Mary Heine told CBS News. “And I thought if anything could save him or make a difference in his life it would be to find Spike and reunite them.”
Spike and his fellow Marines wag their tongues. CREDIT: Jared Heine.
So Mary turned to social media in an attempt to learn Spike’s whereabouts. Remarkably, she managed to track down Spike’s location by finding him at his new job.
Turns out the heroic pooch had been employed by the Capitol Police in Richmond, Virginia, working as a K-9 officer in the three years since leaving Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, there was a complication: in the intervening three years, Spike had grown especially close to his new K-9 handler, Capitol Police Officer Laura Holmes.
“It was pretty much love at first sight,” Officer Holmes said. “I didn’t ever expect to not be with Spike until he was an old man.”
When Heine expressed his desire to be reunited with his old comrade, Holmes was left with an awful dilemma.
“He is more important to me than anybody can know,” an emotional Officer Holmes said. “But we have to do what is right for the whole situation.”
So she decided to give him back to Heine. The two met face-to-face and tearfully embraced, with Heine promising Holmes he would take care of Spike to the best of his ability.
Wednesday on the steps of the State Capitol building, Spike was finally reunited with his old friend, as politicians, police, and everyday citizens gathered around to applaud the touching reunion.
“Right when he got next to me, he knew it was me,” Heine said. “He pushed up against me like we didn’t skip a beat.”
“It’s like I’m back together…a whole person.”