Marine Veteran Defies All Odds To Reunite With His Service Dog
| LAST UPDATE 07/21/2022
There's no denying the love between a man and his dog. In fact, one man was willing to go to all extremes to reunite with the canine he once called his best friend. Here's his inspiring story.
Nick & Mally
During Nick Montez's service in the United States Marine Corps, he made lifelong connections with his fellow troops. However, one partner held a special place in his heart - his service dog, Mally.
Working alongside each other, day in and day out, the human and canine duo had a bond like no other. However, they were tragically pulled apart when Nick was discharged from duty. Years later, with numerous obstacles along the way, the pair finally reunited. This is their remarkable journey.
Taking this emotional tale back to its humble beginnings, we meet Nick Montez. Could his pre-army lifestyle have foreshadowed this future animal bond? Did he have an overwhelming love for dogs that would make his connection with Mally almost inevitable?
Well, considering the fact that he was more of a cat person, we'd have to say no. The Lewiston, Idaho resident admitted he was never into dogs at all, taking little notice of them in the years before enlisting. The connection he would find during his service would therefore come as a big surprise to all, including Nick.
Landing and reporting for duty in Afghanistan, Nick was immediately introduced to his service partner. Expecting a fellow Marine soldier to walk through the door, Nick was surprised to see Mally. The beautiful white-furred Labrador retriever would be his sidekick for the next few years.
However, Mally's impressive skills were far more important than her beauty. She was highly trained at detecting explosive devices in the field, which made her an invaluable part of the team. Due to her powerful nose, the troops felt confident walking in certain areas - a true hero.
Building a Connection
Mally was not expected to do all this backbreaking work alone. Nick would be there by her side the entire way. As Mally's official handler, the pair would spend endless hours together. For this reason, and due to the precarious nature of the job, it was of utmost importance that they would begin to form a strong connection.
Slightly hesitant initially due to his inexperience with dogs, Nick invested all his time and energy into his new mate. Understanding that without a solid friendship, lives could be at risk, he committed to the task. Thankfully, with all the hours they spent together, a tight bond was easily achieved.
In all honesty, 'a tight bond' would be somewhat of an understatement. By this point in 2011, the man and his dog were practically co-dependent on each other for their lives. Unable to do anything or go anywhere without each other, they were inseparable.
The dream team, as they liked to refer to themselves, Nick and Mally, worked together seamlessly. For over a year, they walked the streets of Afghanistan and grew closer each day. Without any doubt, it could be said that Nick had officially moved over to "Team Dog."
Going that Extra Mile
Talking to KREM 2 News Channel during a documentary about their reunion in June 2018, Nick explained to the audience just how close the duo was. Noting their extremely unique friendship dynamic, he detailed the lengths he would go to care for her effectively.
"[I was] with [Mally] constantly every day [in the field], caring for her," Nick recalled. "I'd give her IVs before we'd go out on patrol if it was a hot day, just to make sure she was hydrated. I'd care for her, clip her toenails, massage her pads, clean her ears every week. [I'd] work with her, train with her."
Tragically, Nick and Mally were soon to be pulled apart by factors beyond their control. While it may have felt like it most of the time, Mally was not actually Nick's home pet. She was a key team member of the U.S. Marine Corps and essentially belonged to them.
In 2013, the moment they had long-dreaded became a reality. Nick was discharged from his duty in Afghanistan, and their time together was forced to an end. Taking Mally home was not an option for Nick. They would be sent off in different directions, not knowing if they would see each other ever again.
A Painful Goodbye
Luckily for Nick, Mally was also set to leave Afghanistan at that time, and the best friends were able to enjoy the flight home together. While those final moments on the plane together were undoubtedly memorable, Nick was hyper-aware of the forthcoming dreaded goodbye.
Although Nick's time in service had come to an end, Mally's had not. She was still years off from retirement and had been assigned her next operation. As soon as the plane touched down in America, Nick disembarked, and Mally remained on board to fly to her next base and meet her new human partner.
For Nick, the following months were more challenging than anything he had experienced in the field. As hard as he tried to get on with his regular post-army life, he missed Mally greatly and would think of her constantly throughout the day. Everything seemed to remind him of his furry friend.
Talking to KREM 2, Nick explained that while all goodbyes are hard, this one was made to be so much more painful because the discharge had happened so abruptly. "It was pretty rough, the separation. I wasn't ready for it. It was pretty sudden," he said, resenting the missed opportunity for a proper goodbye.
Hatching a Plan
This all being said, Nick was not one to wallow in self-pity and sadness. After allowing himself a few weeks of downtime to mourn his loss, he began to look ahead and imagine his future now that he was out of service. Then he had an incredibly hopeful thought...
Could Mally be a part of his future life? Was there a chance she could fit into his family and live out her retirement days by his side? Before making any inquiries into the matter, he would need to sit and think it all through carefully. Immediately, he was excited by the idea. Was this even possible? He had to find out.
A Disappointing Update
Reaching the military office to inquire about the possibility of adopting Mally as a pet, he was utterly disappointed to learn that, for now, it was a far-off dream. "When I put in for [Mally's] adoption, I was basically told it was definitely going to be a while," he told KREM 2.
He was told that after they had separated, Mally had been taken to Texas to work her smelling skills at the Lackland Air Force Base. For now, she was doing valuable, life-saving work and would not be released for a while. While crushed at first, Nick decided to wait it out; until then, he had another idea...
Making Things Permanent
While Mally was away, Nick decided he needed to do something to keep her in his thoughts. He wanted to permanently mark their life experiences together in Afghanistan. So, he went and got himself a tattoo on his right calf: skull and crossbones in the shape of a paw.
With the name Mally written in capital letters on top of the image, there was no confusion as to who this tattoo was dedicated to. Below the image were the numbers R798. Why? Well, this was Mally's 'military identification number,' which was inked in her left ear. They now had matching tattoos.
Although the inking was indeed a grand gesture, Nick was not planning to stop there. She constantly remained in his thoughts, and in an effort to never lose tabs on his ex-furry partner, he repeatedly contacted the army offices to learn about Mally's whereabouts.
He reasoned that this way, as soon as Mally was discharged, he would be able to bring her home. Even while he looked after his young daughter, he continued to call the military time after time, still yet to receive the news he wanted to hear. Then, things took a turn for the worse when the army stopped returning his calls.
Reaching for Retirement
On the flip side, it seemed the army was growing tired of Nick's inquiries. As far as they were concerned, dogs like Mally usually remained in service until they were at least ten years old. Considering Mally was only nine-years-old at this point, there was still some time till they would consider releasing her.
In fact, some military dogs surpass the ten-year mark, which is itself a suggested but not mandatory retirement age. In a few specific cases, service dogs can work till they reach twelve years of age. In terms of what they do while enlisted, this can vary greatly.
A Day in the Life
As mentioned, Mally was a trained bomb sniffer. This is a crucial job that can be done much more effectively by a dog than a human. On that note, there are many other positions that dogs can fill, including search and rescue, patrol, attack, and tracking.
By 2021, the service dogs department had a severe supply issue. The U.S. Army was desperately searching for more eligible canines that would help assist significantly in the numerous ongoing military missions. Since the peak of the Afghanistan conflict, the number of military dogs had gone down by 40%.
Not Letting Go
With this information in mind, it is clear why the Military was not looking to release Mally from her duties. The limited number of service dogs available meant that she was a rare find and a highly regarded asset. They would keep her under their service for as long as possible.
As she was still below the official retirement age, they were permitted to keep Mally on board if they so wished. With her range of highly-trained skills, she could serve a great purpose on the Texan base. However, as time went on, Nick was getting desperate. Could he find a way to get back in touch?
Enter Mike Crapo
To be frank, things were looking bleak for Nick. The army was seemingly uninterested in dealing with his adoption inquiries, and he had nowhere or no one else to turn to. Tired of seeing his friend so depressed about the situation, Nick's mate decided to see how he could help.
He reckoned the best approach would be to contact those at the top. Working whatever contacts he could, he managed to get hold of Mike Crapo's team. As one of Idaho's senators, Mike had the power to make Nick's dreams come true. Recalling his friend's heartfelt story to the senator, he anxiously awaited what would be.
An Unexpected Call
While he remained hopeful, Nick's friend wasn't sure if the senator would be able to make anything happen. Was this even within his realm of power? Apparently, yes. Taken back by the veteran's tale, Campo instantly contacted the Lackland Air Force Base on his behalf.
Instructing them to re-contact Nick, the army officials abided and gave the veteran a call. Nick was incredibly relieved to have re-opened the lines of communication, this time with a man named Jerry Britt. He provided him with updates on Mally but could not tell him when she would be off-duty.
The waiting resumed, albeit this time, Nick was able to contact the base whenever he wished to do so. Then, fast forward to June 2018, and the veteran received a life-changing message from the Texas facility. When he read it, he could not believe his eyes...
Despite never genuinely losing hope, a part of him was starting to believe this day would never come. But here it was, in black and white: Mally would return to Nick years after they separated. He had been given formal permission to adopt the dog as his own and take her into his care.
“A Weight Had Been Lifted”
Now it was just a matter of time until Nick would be reunited with his furry pal. He could not wait to hold her in his arms once again and take care of her every need. Talking to KREM 2 News Channel, Nick reflected on the moment he received this wonderful update.
"It was a huge sense of relief, because I've been trying so hard for so long," he recalled. "I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That sense of purpose kind of made my bond with [Mally] stronger, if that makes any sense." What was next?
Touching Down in Texas
Nick was informed that he would need to travel to Texas to meet Mally. Here, they would be able to make it all official and sign the necessary documents. A Texas-based military dog charity even caught word of the story and reached out to Nick to pay for his flight tickets there.
Full of excitement and anticipation, Nick stepped off the plane at San Antonio Airport and headed straight to the base. As he drove into the facility, Jerry Britt was outside waiting to meet him. "He just had this big old grin on his face. It looked like he [had] already started crying," he told KREM 2.
Reunited, At Last
Once all the documents had been signed by both parties, the time had come for the big reunion. Everyone held their breath as Mally was brought into the room where Nick waited. After all this time apart, the previous best friends were seconds away from being brought back together.
Talking to The Lewiston Tribune, Nick provided a play-by-play of the meeting. "[Mally] came out of the kennel and walked right up to me. I was on my knees, and I gave her a big hug. [I] started talking to her. She looked at me with this really inquisitive kind of stare, and her tail started wagging."
Memories Come Flooding In
When explicitly asked about Mally's behavior, Nick noted that she "was happy and excited, but she was still kind of confused." He explained that in the first moments of their reunion, he assumed there was much confusion in Mally's brain. It seemed she was not instantly aware of who he was.
In all fairness, it had been many years since they had last seen each other, and Mally had been working hard in Texas all this time. Then suddenly, Mally caught a whiff of Nick's scent and began to relax. After so long, her ex-partner's scent remained in her memory! She knew who he was!
Everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. The reunion had seemed to be everything Nick had dreamed of. And after all his strength, he deserved this positive ending. However, after the initial excitement began to die down, some lingering questions remained.
What had been behind the military's decision to let Mally go? She was only nine years old, one year younger than the retirement age. Sadly, it seemed the dog's health was behind the move. As it turned out, she had accumulated a range of medical conditions over her years and was deemed no longer fit for service.
Thankfully, none of the ailments were life-threatening or painful, and Nick was assured he would have no problem managing them. All that was left now was for Nick to take Mally back to his home in Lewiston. Heading to the airport, they excitedly boarded the flight to Idaho.
"I don't think she'd been on a plane since we came home from Afghanistan," Nick told KREM 2. In reference to the flight itself, and Mally's behavior onboard the aircraft, he told The Lewiston Tribune, "She was great, but she's been kind of terrified." She'd been through a lot in her nine years on earth.
An Emotional Sendoff
Before the pair would arrive at Nick's house, there was one last surprise in store. While driving back from the airport, Nick's friend Patrick Riddle, riding in the front seat alongside him, asked him if he could take the wheel for a little while. A confused Nick agreed.
Soon enough, it would all become very clear why his friend had asked to do so. After one minute of Patrick driving, an entire fleet of police cars appeared around their vehicle. They had orchestrated a police escort to accompany the man and his dog home!
Welcome to the Neighborhood
Even the neighbors joined in on the fun, standing along the town bridge with American flags and waving at the car as it drove past. It was an incredibly heartwarming moment, full of love for the veteran and his furry best friend. Everyone laughed as Mally stuck her head out the car window to enjoy the attention.
Interviewed by The Lewiston Tribune, the locals had much to say on the matter, explaining their decision to come out and show their support for the new arrivals. "With everything that's so negative, I wanted to come out and do something positive," said Laura Grinstead.
"We Owe Them More Than We Ever Know"
Many of the neighborhood members had high regard for the service dogs, noting the life-saving work they do. "The story made my eyes cry. Those dogs have protected lives, and they have shared their life so intimately. You just can't help but get interested," gushed Wendy Wilkins.
"I so believe in what our servicemen and women do. I appreciate our freedom and absolutely love dogs. I think dogs who are doing a service, we owe them more than we ever know. The job they do is priceless. They're saving lives," noted Robin Tietz, who drew a placard for Mally.
With her extensive military record in mind, it's easy to understand why Mally took some time to adjust to her new home and lifestyle in Idaho. A whole new physical setting to get used to - as well as a completely different daily schedule. Any dog or human would find that challenging.
Her once highly active, physically intensive days in the field had been replaced by relaxed and quiet moments in Nick's home. As comfortable as she was, it was a significant change. Nick and his family ensured Mally had all the support she needed, treating her like a princess. Soon enough, she'd feel at home.
No one could have predicted the way everyone would react to this story. Not just the incredibly warm and welcoming neighbors - but also the world who was sharing the tale at a rapid speed, shining the spotlight on the military veteran and his long-lost best friend.
"Even though the attention is like sensory overload, it's a good problem to have," Nick admitted to The Lewiston Tribune. He further revealed that the response had come as quite a surprise to him. "I'm surprised our story's affected so many people. That's a pleasant feeling."