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One Veteran Found Her Way Back to Her K9 Partner — The Inspiring True Story

"We were bonded by duty and love!"

Air Force Staff Sergeant Angela Lowe’s heart was heavy. A medical discharge was ending her military career and, even harder, she had to say goodbye to her K9 partner, Szultan.

“I was Szultan’s first handler and we had a rocky start,” Angela admits to FIRST for Women. “The 70-pound shepherd had a stubborn streak and the aggressive temperament a military dog requires. But, in time, we became a perfectly meshed team.” He soon followed Angela’s every instruction, and during quiet moments, he’d nuzzle her affectionately with the top of his head.

For a little more than a year, Angela and Szultan worked together at South Carolina’s Joint Base Charleston, where they checked incoming vehicles for explosives and performed sweeps of the Navy’s Nuclear Power School.

On her last day, Angela gave Szultan a final salute and hug. “I told him I was proud to have served with him,” she recalls, and there were tears in her eyes as her comrade headed off with his new handler.

Angela Lowe with Sultan

No soldier left behind

After her post, Angela moved to Kentucky, where she lived with an adopted bloodhound, Dixie, and a shepherd duo, Addie and Jackson. But Szultan always held a special place in her heart.

“I would pray he was okay and happy each morning as I filled dishes with kibble and fresh water for my other dogs,” Angela shares.

Four years and a move to Pittsburgh passed, and, one day, out of the blue, Angela received an Instagram message from now 10-year-old Szultan’s handler. He wrote: Our buddy’s about to retire. Would you be interested in adopting him? But you’ll have to act fast.

Angela knew that there was only a seven-day window between Szultan’s last day on the job and finding a home. “Because of their aggressive temperament, military dogs don’t often get adopted by civilians,” Angela explains. “The hope is one of their handlers take them.” But Szultan’s current, and only K9 partner since Angela, couldn’t take him.

K9 partner

“I knew I had to take him or I feared he would be euthanized,” Angela says. But it’s up to the adopter to transport the dog to its new home. Angela was working full time and going to school and couldn’t get time off.

I have to find a way, she thought, and reached out to Mission K9 Rescue, an organization that helps reunite retired working dogs with their handlers. I don’t know how you guys work, but here’s my situation, Angela’s long shot plea began.

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A journey of love to save her K9 partner

“This came through on our Instagram feed,” Louisa Kastner told Kristen Maurer, founder and president of Mission K9 Rescue. Reading Angela’s assessment of Szultan’s strong temperament, they knew the clock was ticking.

“We’ll make it happen,” Kristen called and told Angela, to her immense relief.

Whenever possible, Kristen and Louisa arrange for dogs to be flown to their new homes. But they worried Szultan was too aggressive to fly on his own. So they flew from their home base in Houston to South Carolina, where they rented a minivan and bought a kennel, thinking they’d have to crate Szultan for the 650-mile drive to Angela in Pittsburgh.

But when they picked Szultan up, as Kristen reached to fasten a leash, he gave her fingers a friendly lick. She’d seen it many times. Somehow the dog knows their working life is over. They relax, and become great, loving pets.

K9 partner

Szultan rode the whole way curled up in his dog bed in the back. Angela was outside waiting when they arrived, fretting because she didn’t know how Szultan would react to his new home and her other dogs.

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“I shouldn’t have worried,” Angela smiles. “Szultan climbed out of the minivan, stretched, then calmly sniffed his new surroundings and finally he stepped up and began rubbing me with the top of his head just like he used to.”

Tears filled Angela’s eyes as Szultan began frolicking like a young pup with Addie, Jackson and Dixie, and later that night he climbed onto Angela’s bed and curled up beside his old friend.

 “I didn’t know how much I missed Szultan until we were reunited,” she says. “You have your pets and of course you love them. But it’s different with a K9 partner. It’s indescribable how bonded you are. We’re lucky indeed to have found one another again.”

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