It didn’t matter to Deano Miller that his former military working dog didn’t recognize him at their reunion at Sea-Tac International Airport on Thursday.
They have a long time to get reacquainted after spending the past four years apart.
“I’m just happy he’s here,” said Miller, 25, a former Marine corporal from Tacoma.
Their reunion marked the end of Miller’s long effort to adopt the 7-year-old yellow Labrador named Thor that gave him comfort for seven months in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
Since that 2010 tour with a California-based Marine battalion, Thor served alongside four more handlers in combat while Miller reestablished a life in his hometown.
Miller didn’t stop thinking about his four-legged battle buddy.
Thor “was my everything in Afghanistan,” Miller said.
His adoption of the dog came together with help from the American Humane Association Mission K9 Rescue, which takes military working dogs that hunted bombs on the battlefield and connects them with good homes in the states.
Those dogs have performed life-saving work in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, military canines found more than 12,500 pounds of explosives in Afghanistan, according to the book “Soldier Dogs” by Maria Goodavage.
Their work became famous in May 2011 when a Navy SEAL team brought a dog named Cairo along on the mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
Special operators at Joint Base Lewis-McChord also have formed tight bonds with their canines. Last December, 1st Special Forces Group set aside a brick in a wall near the unit’s JBLM memorial to honor Rico, a working dog that died in Afghanistan in 2013 from unknown causes.
Miller and Thor had a fairly safe tour together. They did not come across any mines. The Marines on their patrols were safe.
“It’s not the ones you find,” Miller said. “It’s the ones you don’t miss.”
He met Thor just before the deployment when Miller’s unit was looking for noncommissioned officers to become dog handlers. He volunteered and was assigned Thor at a training facility in Virginia.
“He was the only dog who listened to me,” Miller said.
They were especially close on the deployment because Miller and Thor slept in a tent outside the unit’s main quarters. The dog would find a way to wiggle between Miller’s legs when they slept on his cot.
“He was all I had,” Miller said. “He was the only thing that kept me going every day. He was the only thing that was constant.”
Miller’s fiancéé, Tomi Gallegos, is excited to get Thor home to their family. She’s heard Miller talk about the canine for the past three years.
“This is going to help him with everything he’s going through,” she said. They both work at Simpson Lumber.
Thor was a popular traveler on his journey from a canine facility in North Carolina. Passengers at baggage claim talked about his story and paused to take photographs.
The reunion took place in front of several USO representatives, reporters from all of the Seattle TV stations, The News Tribune, a couple news websites and a pet publication.
Miller looked anxious while he waited for the dog in front of the camera.
“If (Thor) even shows any sign that he knows me a little bit, I’m probably going to cry,” he admitted.
When a handler passed the leash to Miller, Thor appeared too distracted to pay much attention to the former Marine. The dog wanted to inspect all the TV cameras before he could settle down.
“It’s just time to take him home and meet his two brothers,” Miller said, referring to the family’s two other dogs.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646