Military dogs have played a vital role in the United States Armed Forces since time immemorial. They are trained to fulfill extremely important tasks that have saved military and civilian lives. The service they provide to the country is invaluable, which is why they are deemed heroes in their own right.
U.S. Army Veteran Joe Steenbeke served in Afghanistan for nearly a year as a tactical explosives dog handler. There he met Tess, a Belgian Malinois who was his detective dog tasked with sniffing out bombs day in and day out. The two worked closely side by side, with Tess serving not just as Joe’s partner but also as her handler’s emotional support.
Joe’s deployment ended in February 2013, and he left Afghanistan while Tess remained and went on to be stationed with the Connecticut National Guard.
Now, after nearly 6 years, the two veterans have finally reunited! Joe returned to his hometown in Culver, Indiana along with the now 11-year old Tess, who Joe says remained the same as ever.
“She still likes chewing on my thumbs,” Joe shares. Just like before, the dog still jumps on his chest to give him kisses. Though Tess’ muzzle had turned a little gray, she was still the same pup that Joe has come to know and love in Afghanistan.
But the process of bringing Tess home was far from easy – it involved copious amounts of paperwork, help from family, friends, nonprofits, and U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski’s office.
Joe’s wife, Stephanie, has been an integral part of securing Tess for adoption. She says that she has been hearing stories about the pup since she and Joe started dating years ago. That’s how she understood how important Tess was in Joe’s life, and this drove her to begin the years-long process to get the two veterans reunited.
This huge amount of effort from the couple and all those who helped them were all worth it, as they were able to bring Tess back home with them.
“It’s been six years since I’ve had her and honestly, looking at her right now, it feels like it’s been a lifetime, but it also feels like it was just yesterday that I said goodbye to her,” Joe said of his reunion with Tess. “I know that she’s going to be in a great home that loves her from now until forever. I’m just happy to have her back.”
Joe is suffering from PTSD, and Stephanie has already seen the impact that Tess has on her family. She says that her husband has been sleeping a lot better since Tess lived with them. Joe agrees.
“I mean just having her around, being able to say, ‘Hey come here, Mama’ and then hear her collar kind of jingling all the way towards me and the way she still gets excited when she sees me and stuff like that,” he said.
The Steenbekes said that Tess has been settling well in her new home. The couple says that they are looking forward to giving her the best retirement life ever. She surely deserves it! As a dog who served in the military, Tess has been working hard all her life since she was a little pup. Now, she gets to sit back and live life like a regular dog.
The pair’s story of reunion is truly heartwarming. The look on their faces say it all – Tess and Joe make each other happy, and they are certainly better together.
Watch the video below from ABC News to learn more about Tess and Joe’s story.