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Dakota the bomb-sniffing dog survives firefight

By Sgt. Heidi Agostini , I MEF

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Dakota, an improvised explosives device detection dog, walks alongside his handler Lance Cpl. Eric Devine, from Reading, Pa. Dakota suffered a bullet wound to her hips and is currently recovering aboard Camp Leatherneck.
Dakota, an improvised explosives device detection dog, walks alongside his handler Lance Cpl. Eric Devine, from Reading, Pa. Dakota suffered a bullet wound to her hips and is currently recovering aboard Camp Leatherneck.

April 26, 2010 — CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (April 24, 2010) – The black Labrador retriever named Dakota, lay on the floor with a blood-seeped gauze taped to her hip,  letting out a melancholic cry when her handler moved out of her sight.

Military policeman and dog handler, Lance Cpl. Eric Devine, from Reading, Pa., sat next to his pure-bred dog and smiled a little when a relaxed Dakota affectionately placed her paw in his hand. 

It was only 24 hours ago when Dakota, an improvised explosives detection dog, and a panic-stricken Devine were rushed to the hospital. While on patrol on a mission to clear compounds on April 15, in the western edge of Marjah, 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment was ambushed. Both dog and handler were caught without cover.  Seconds later, Devine heard his dog screaming in pain, yelping and running in circles. Dakota was shot in the hind-end. 

The firefight continued and Devine and dog were stuck in a low ditch.  Devine packed gauze in Dakota's wound while he fended off her bites and held on to her until the firefight ceased and the medical evacuation arrived. 

"My initial reaction – it tore me up pretty bad," said Devine. "I pretty much started crying when I heard her scream.  I couldn't believe she got hit."

Once the medevac arrived, the dog and her handler traveled to Camp Leatherneck where the team at the 72nd Medical Detachment, Veterinary Services, began to treat her immediately after arrival. The X-rays were promising and the surgery went well.

"My initial reaction led me to wonder what the extent of the wound was and how much bone injury was included," said Army Capt. Michael Bellin,  the veterinarian who treated Dakota. "I was hoping that it was mostly a soft tissue injury and not bone involvement because my expertise in surgery is more soft tissue, not orthopedics. The bullet took a funny turn as they sometimes do, and we both ended up kind of lucky that night."

The wound is keeping Dakota and her handler grounded, future unknown.  IED detection dogs work an average of seven years. Dakota recently celebrated her fifth birthday on March 1. If her time as a bomb detector is finished, she'll return home with more than 11 confirmed IED's she found, countless number of lives saved. 

"She saved my butt on a couple occasions," said Devine, who is on his first deployment. "She saved lives. I know that for sure.  There were times she would find IEDs and it's a good feeling knowing those guys were safe because of her."

Devine and Dakota are together 24 hours a day. They sleep side by side,  sometimes on the same bed, sometimes she manages to kick him off it. The two have only been paired for five months, but the bond is immeasurable.  Devine hopes to adopt her, but traditionally, the dog is adopted by their first dog handler. An exception might be made to this rule considering the pair has been through hell and high water together. 

"When she got hit we're still taking fire and the rounds were snapping over head," said Devine. "I completely stopped caring at that point and wanted to get her out of there.  It was one of the hardest things I ever saw."

Time will heal this wound. Dakota is doing well and is recuperating on Camp Leatherneck. She is very responsive and becomes alert at the sight of her favorite red chew toy.  She is hungry and eating well and is constantly supervised.

"When the bullet exited, the wound was pretty hefty and took a lot of muscle with it, said Bellin, a graduate of Iowa State University. "Right now she's in some pain and uncomfortable, but it'll take a while for it to heal. The biggest thing right now is to make sure she's comfortable and has the proper pain medicine. It's a waiting game now."