Some goodbyes are harder than others, especially when you’re unsure if you’ll see each other again. For Spc. Michael Steponovich, the hardest part about leaving the Army was parting ways with a special K9. Popeye the 7-year-old German Shepherd, was his bomb-sniffing K9 partner for about 18 months, and the two developed a very close bond during that time.
Now, the Army veteran is finally getting a chance to reunite with his furry friend—for good this time. Both of them couldn’t be happier!
Two Best Friends Separated
When Steponovich left the Army to return to civilian life, he couldn’t help but wonder about Popeye. Popeye had been by his side for 18 months while stationed in South Korea. That’s more than enough time to fall in love with a dog.
“It’s always hard saying goodbye to a dog,” Steponovich said. “Especially in my job: You don’t know if it’s going to be the last time you’re going to see him.”
Almost five months after Steponovich returned home, Popeye retired too. He finished his globe-spanning tour of duty in Las Vegas, which is where Steponovich lives. American Humane, a company dedicated to the well-being of animals, took that opportunity to bring the human and dog back together. They arranged for the pair to be reunited at the Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.
The Perfect Reunion
Right away, Popeye seemed to recognize his human friend’s voice. He rushed to Steponovich’s open arms and threw his paws around him. The pup nuzzled his face against his human, overjoyed to finally see him again. American Humane covered all the transportation and adoption costs so Steponovich wouldn’t have to lose his best friend again.
“This was incredible,” Steponovich said. “It’s so amazing to see so much support.”
It’s estimated that there are about 2,000 U.S. military dogs working at the same time. When they retire, handlers are the first to get the opportunity to adopt them. So, many of these heroic pups go off to a home that’s familiar to them.
“Every single one of them deserves this type of retirement,” said Lesa Staubus, a veterinarian with American Humane. “We want this for every single dog who’s completed their service.”
Thanks to organizations like American Humane, reunions like this one are much easier for the veterans involved. Popeye is already settling into his home nicely. He loves snuggling at home, but also exploring the great outdoors. He once spent over 2,000 hours successfully sniffing out explosives, but now, he can finally relax and get the pampered life he truly deserves.