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US Soldier Fights for Custody of a Dog Who Saved His Life
Photo: Alexander Reimer

If you have ever lost a pet and had the joyous occasion of reuniting with them, then you will understand this Army Veteran Alex Reimer’s emotional roller coaster.

Alex Reimer was deployed overseas with Howard, a Pit Bull trained to sniff out bombs.  Like any dog and their human handler, they formed a strong bond during their time together.

Stories of military dogs and their handlers are always fascinating. The pair looked after each other and even saved each others’ lives more than once. When Howard’s tours were over and was retired from the U.S. Army, he was put up for adoption back in the United States.

When Reimer’s tour of duty came to a close in 2013, he began looking for Howard only to discover he had been adopted by another family. Howard was adopted by former Hoke County Sheriff’s Deputy Deon Fuller.

Everything seemed to be going well for Howard the dog, and he was said to be adjusting to civilian life perfectly. Reimer, however, claimed otherwise. He said that Howard wasn’t being taken care of properly and he didn’t want to stand for that. A custody battle ensued.

Deon Fuller, Howard’s new owner, said he treated Howard as best as possible and that Reimer’s claims were untrue; your classic case of he said, he said. Fuller believed Howard to be rightfully his and refused to give him to Reimer since he is at home with his new family.

These are difficult circumstances; who does Howard truly belong to? His handler, or his new family? Maybe both of them, or neither of them?

Who is right in this situation? This turned out to be a very heated issue which gained national attention. Reimer set up a petition on Change.org and a Facebook page called “Bring Howard Home,” which currently has 36,000 likes.

Bring Howard Home petition photo
Bring Howard Home petition. Photo: Change.org

Army veteran Reimer has more reasons to want Howard back than just the possible claims of mistreatment. Reimer suffers from PTSD and wants to be reunited with Howard; in addition to Howard being his best friend, he would also use Howard as his therapy dog.

This brings up a good question: should any type of service dog be kept for their handlers after retirement? Or should the handlers at least get first choice if they want to keep the dog as their personal pet after their job is done?

Maybe not every handler wants their dog after retirement. Maybe they bring back bad memories, maybe their family is allergic; whatever the reason, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But don’t you think the handlers should at least get a choice? Most service dogs and their handlers form a bond like no other. Imagine that it was up to you and your dog to not only keep each other safe, but save hundreds of others as well. This is a different type of bond.

However, we also have to think of the situation from Fuller’s perspective. You go to the shelter, pick out a dog who happens to have an amazing history, he fits in perfectly with your entire family and you fall in love with him.

Military Pit Bull and his handler
Reimer and his military Pit Bull Howard. Photo: Alexander Reimer

Now, a year or two later, you get a call saying you have to give him back because someone else wants him. Obviously this is why Fuller refused to give Howard back to Reimer.

Fuller continued to insist that Howard rightfully belonged to him and his new family since he was adopted after his retirement from the military. He refused to even think about handing Howard back to Reimer.

On November 23rd, however, Fuller changed his mind; he decided that Howard should go back to Reimer.

There is no definite reason what brought on Fuller’s change of heart, but supposedly, Fuller lost his job over the national attention this case received. Whatever the reason might be, I feel sad for Fuller for having to give up a family member and losing his job, but happy for Reimer that he gets his best friend back.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Who do you think is right here?

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Kelli Pechal
Kelli is a practicing Licensed Veterinary Technician and a lifelong animal lover who regularly works with pets. On top of her professional dog experience in the veterinary field, Kelli has also worked in a dog boarding facility since 2012. Kelli is also taking care of two rescue dogs of her own, a Border Collie mix and a Westie mix.