The poignant picture of an Airforce staff sergeant hugging his military working dog after the dog was euthanized has gone viral, especially since the dog was draped in the American flag.
Sergeant Kyle Smith, who served four military tours with his 11-year-old German Shepherd Bodza, cradled Bodza in an American flag his superiors allowed him to drape over the dog. Smith told WSOC, "I hugged him and told him that I loved him a lot . . . He was as much a part of the Air Force as me. I couldn't have done the mission I did without him there." Smith told Inside Edition, “I held him in my arms the entire time. I’ve never cried that much my entire life.”
Smith noted wistfully that he bought the dog, who had been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a Big Mac for the dog’s final meal. He added, “He didn’t leave a crumb."
Smith recalled, “It was the saddest thing — he was dragging himself along the tile floor because it was hard to maneuver. Instead of putting him on the table, I had a minute with him on the floor. I just kept holding him, rubbing and kissing his head, telling him, 'I'm going to miss you.'"
When Smith’s superiors discovered that Bodza was being euthanized, they came directly to Smith afterward. Smith said, "My boss immediately said, 'Where’s your American flag? You should have one in your building. Find it for me now.'"
The flag was draped over Bodza, who was first paired with Bodza in 2012 during a deployment in Kyrgyzstan.
Smith commented, "The worst thing you can do is not to recognize these dogs for what they are. For these guys to do this for a dog they’ve never even met... he got a good sendoff that day.”
Smith shared his memories of his dog:
He was one of those gentle giants. He was trained to bite, but I swear he only did it to make people happy. He had no interest in the world of hurting anyone . . . My favorite thing about him was he didn’t care what you were doing, he just wanted to be there doing it with you. Pretty much my whole career with him was walking around something, or walking to somewhere."
The two were parted briefly when Smith received a different assignment with another dog, but in 2014, when Bodza was retired from service, Smith’s boss offered him Bodza for adoption. Smith reminisced, "My boss said, ‘Hey, go check your Jeep.’ They went out and put a bowl, a brand new leash and two collars, and they put [Bodza] at the back of my Jeep. I got to take him home the same day he retired."
Smith eventually served as an instructor for military working dogs in El Paso, Texas. Last October, when he and Bodza traveled from Virginia to Texas, Bodza could not jump into the car; Smith had to pick him up. Smith assumed it was a hip problem, but Bodza started slipping on smooth surfaces as Smith saw the dog’s front legs were growing weaker.
Once the dog was diagnosed, the decision was made to euthanize him.
"He was as much a part of the Air Force as me. I couldn't have done the mission I did without him there."
Air Force Staff Sergeant Kyle Smith
Smith concluded, “All of us have that dog that is so special to us. I got married with this dog, I got divorced with this dog. I have a son on the way, and the most heartbreaking part is I really wish he was younger, so my son would be able to play with him. He was the nicest dog in the world.”