A combat dog, who earned Bronze Stars in Iraq, was shot and killed in Wyoming last Saturday. The bomb-sniffing combat dog named Mike, who survived two tours in Iraq, was shot and killed by a bicyclist who said he was attacked.
Mike's partner and owner, Army veteran Matthew Bessler, is devastated, angered and questions the story told by the bicyclist who shot the 9-year-old Belgian Malinois. Bessler, a 20-year Army vet, served six tours in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Carson, Colorado, also wonders how he will now deal with his combat-related injuries alone.
When discussing the combat dog named Mike with the Billings Gazette, Bessler said, “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. 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.”
And it wasn't just Mike who helped Bessler. They relied on each other as both the bomb-sniffing combat dog and the Army veteran shared a diagnosis of PTSD. Their story was once shared in an article on the official Army website.
Those signs of PTSD began to show themselves while the two were serving Iraq. They were especially evident in Mike as one day the bomb-sniffing combat dog just stopped sniffing for explosives.
Bessler took Mike to the military veterinarian in Baghdad, who tried low doses of Prozac to calm the dog's anxiety, but Mike continued to be easily distracted and anxious in the chaos that is a combat zone.
In March 2010, Bessler flew back to Colorado with Mike at his feet. It wasn't until transitioning out of the Army that Bessler realized Mike wasn't the only one affected by the war.
In addition to PTSD, Bessler was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. The effects of TBI, including seizures, memory loss, headaches, vestibular, and vision problems, augment the effects of PTSD. In his first months in Colorado, Bessler found himself struggling to find a "new normal."
"At that point you get a fever. You just want to go back again. It becomes normal for you to be over there worrying about whether a mortar is going to hit you," Bessler said.
While seeking help for his TBI and PTSD, Bessler visited Mike nearly every day at the kennel. The two went running together and played fetch, but neither dog nor owner could ignore the strain PTSD had placed on both of their lives. Mike was refusing to eat, and Bessler struggled with nightmares, sleep apnea and seizures.
When the kennel master asked if Bessler wanted to adopt Mike, he said yes, despite knowing there wasn't a "happily ever after" planned.
When Mike was shot and killed, his owner Matthew Bessler was hunting in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains. Friends were caring for Mike had no idea how the combat dog escaped from Bessler's home.
According to the story the bicyclist told sheriff's deputies, he was “attacked” by a “German shepherd-looking dog” and initially fended off the dog using his bicycle. He then told deputies, as he became more "afraid for his life," he then grabbed a revolver from his bicycle-mounted holster, and shot the dog.
“(The man) said he was genuinely in fear of his life and well-being, and the dog was ‘definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all,’” Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess summarized of the report later compiled by a deputy.
“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.
Army veteran Bessler questions the bicyclist’s account, saying the combat dog was shot in the rear. “He has his story,” he told the Tribune. “I know my dog. I have my story.”
Bessler hopes Mike can have a burial with military honors.
“Mike was a retired major in the Army that saved a number of lives because of his work in bomb detection and everything he had done,” Bessler said.
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