BOISE — When Tech. Sgt. Dustin Cain left South Korea last January, he was hopeful that he could somehow find a way to sneak his partner over to Mountain Home Air Force Base, too.
Cain spent a year at Osan Air Base working with German shepherd Bakk. Shortly before Cain headed home, Bakk tore his cruciate ligament — the equivalent of an ACL tear in a human. Cain knew the injury would likely lead to Bakk’s retirement, and Cain was optimistic that he might be reunited with the dog in Idaho.
On Tuesday, Cain buzzed with excitement as he waited to see Bakk for the first time in nearly a year. Thanks to American Humane, an animal welfare organization that finds homes for retired military animals, Bakk had been transported from South Korea and driven from San Francisco by a veterinarian before arriving at the Hampton Inn on Capitol Boulevard.
“I was unsure how this would work,” Cain said. “But American Humane helped things along. He was transported at no cost to me.”
Cain, who has spent almost a decade in the Air Force, carried a black Kong tug toy for the 8-year-old dog — a reminder of their first meeting in January 2017.
Often, Cain said, working dogs will take some time to warm up to a new handler. Bakk was different.
“I took him out, threw his Kong, and he came right back ready to work,” Cain said.
The pair patrolled Osan Air Base together for a year, with Bakk ready to spring into action as an apprehension dog if situations got heated.
“Everybody works a dog differently, and every dog is different,” Cain said. “He’s the most loyal dog I’ve worked so far.”
Bakk will join another retired military dog, Ivan, at the Cain house, as well as the tech sergeant’s wife, Stephanie, and sons Henry and Chris.
“As a handler, we understand at some point you’re going to have to give up your dog,” Cain said. “This whole year I’ve been anxious and waiting for his return.”
When Bakk first arrived in the Gold Fork meeting room of the Hampton, he seemed overwhelmed by the small crowd and crush of TV cameras gathered to greet him, slinking into the room and ignoring his former handler’s initial greetings. Accompanied by his veterinarian escort, Lesa Staubus, he quickly found Cain — and the Kong toy his former handler had brought.
“For those veterans who served with a dog, pairing them back together has helped heal a lot of injuries,” Staubus said.
She and Cain took turns playing tug and tousling Bakk’s fur, sharing stories about his love of climbing on furniture and his sociable demeanor.
“Being a vet, I’ve done various things,” Staubus said, “but being this dog’s escort was one of the most special things.”
She gave Cain quick updates on Bakk’s recovery from cruciate ligament repair surgery and told the former handler how pleased she was to adopt a retired dog to a family that would understand his background. Cain nodded.
“The dogs need it, but we need it too,” he said.