It was late—an indistinguishable, blearyeyed hour. In front of me was a large dog, snapping his jaws so hard that his teeth gave a loud clack with each bark. His eyes were locked on me, desperate for the toy in my hand. But he wasn’t playing—he was freaking out.
As I cautiously held my ground, his bark morphed from a yelp to a shout. Then he gave a rumbling growl. That was when my unease gave way to something far more primal: fear.
This was no ordinary dog. Dyngo, a ten-year-old, had been trained to propel his six-stone body toward insurgents, locking his jaws around them. He’d served three tours in Afghanistan, weathering grenade blasts and firefights. This dog had saved thousands of lives. Now he was in my flat in Washington, DC. Just 72 hours earlier, I had travelled across the country to retrieve Dyngo from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona, so that he could live out his remaining years with me in civilian retirement.
That first night, May 9, 2016, after we’d settled into my hotel room, Dyngo sat on the bed waiting for me. When I got under the covers, he stretched across the blanket, his weight heavy and comforting against my side. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt his body twitch, and I smiled: Dyngo is a dog who dreams.
The next morning, I gave him a toy and went to shower. When I emerged from the bathroom, it was like stepping into a henhouse massacre. Feathers floated in the air. Fresh rips ran through the white sheets. In the middle of the bed was Dyngo, panting over a pile of shredded pillows. Throughout the morning, his rough play left scratches where his teeth had broken the skin through my jeans.
On the flight home, Dyngo was allowed to sit at my feet in the roomy first row, but he soon had bouts of vomiting in between his attempts to shred the blanket I’d brought him. The pilot announced Dyngo’s military status, inspiring applause from the whole cabin. When we reached my flat, we both collapsed from exhaustion. It would be our last bit of shared peace for many months.
I MET DYNGO in 2012 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I was working on a book, War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love, and had heard about how Dyngo had saved many lives in Afghanistan. His bravery had earned him and his handler, StaffSergeant Justin Kitts, a Bronze Star.
In early 2011, Kitts and Dyngo boarded a helicopter on their way to a remote outpost in Afghanistan. Dyngo wore a wide choke chain and a vest that said “MWD Police K-9” to indicate that he was a military working dog.
The plan for the day was familiar. The platoon from the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division would make its way on foot to nearby villages, connecting with community elders to find out whether Taliban operatives were planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the area. Kitts and Dyngo walked in front to clear the road ahead. After six months of these scouting missions, Kitts trusted that Dyngo would keep him safe.
They were on a path in a field a little more than half a mile outside the outpost when Dyngo’s ears perked up, his tail stiffened and his sniffing intensified. It wasn’t a full alert, but Kitts knew Dyngo well enough to know he’d picked up the odour of an IED. He signalled the platoon leader. “There’s something over there, or there’s not,” Kitts said. “But my dog is showing me enough. We should not continue going that way.”
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