January 27th, 2017 was a brisk morning on the edge of the beautiful Red River. Hundreds of people stood with their best friends on the ends of leashes anticipating the start of the inaugural Run Like An Animal Race hosted by my practice University Veterinary Hospital. There were dogs of many shapes, sizes and colors and their people were all smiles as we gathered together for a great cause. I met so many new four-legged friends that day, but there was one standout trio that touched all of our hearts. As I announced the winners of the costume contest I had to pause, gather my words, and share the story that I had just learned that truly moved me to tears. Jason and his wife Stefanie were dressed in Star Wars theme—Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Harco, their handsome Belgian Malinois was dressed as Chewbacca.
Their story and their bond are unique and beautiful. They didn’t get Harco as a puppy, find him through a breeder, or even rescue him from a shelter. In fact they were not even looking for a new pet. Jason Rhynard is a civilian contract helicopter pilot and Harco is a static explosive detection canine.
They met while they were both stationed in Afghanistan in 2013. The first time Jason saw Harco he says that he loved him right away—that he was so calm and friendly. Jason sat with Harco for two hours during that first meeting, playing ball, taking pictures, and even posting one on Facebook with the caption, “I seriously want this dog.”
Jason had multiple encounters with Harco and each time they saw each other their connection grew stronger. Later that year, Harco and his handler received orders to move out of the country. Jason requested to be their pilot knowing this would most likely be the last time they would ever see each other. At that time, Harco was three years old with probably another five years to work and when he retired, all his former handlers would have first option to adopt.
When Jason returned home to the United States, he had his buddy Harco on his mind. He wanted to be considered when he came up for adoption. After years of emails and phone calls and multiple dead ends, Jason finally received a reply, “I see you’re listed as an adoption candidate in Harco’s file, can I ask how you know this K9?” Jason jumped to answer this email explaining his connection to Harco, sending pictures of their time in Afghanistan, explaining what an amazing home he could offer him, and describing their bond.
After several months without any communication, Jason got the answer he was hoping for—” The decision has been made to retire Harco, fill out these attached forms.” That was it! Harco was shipped from Bagram, Afghanistan to Bahrain to Amsterdam to Houston, TX.
Although it had been over three years since they last saw each other, they picked up right where they left off. He immediately adjusted to living with Jason and his wife Stefanie and they adjusted to living with him. Jason says “Our house would feel so empty without him now. He loves going for walks and runs, playing ball in the yard, running up and down the fence with the neighbor dogs, laying around in comfort, and going with me anywhere I take him. He was in attendance at my last deployment sendoff ceremony. While I was away, my wife Stefanie did a great job taking care of him and I jokingly say that she’s his favorite now.”
This year our hearts were warmed once again by this amazing trio. As I saw them with the others in attendance at the 2018 UVH Run Like An Animal Race, I quickly realized they would win this year’s costume contest. Stefanie was dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and Harco was dressed as the Grandmother even with little gold glasses. The kicker— Jason returned from a yearlong deployment the night before the race. That’s right, not even 24 hours at home in America and Jason was waking up at 6 a.m. to take his running buddy to his favorite race.
I seriously want this dog could not have ended better!
Thank you Jason and Harco for your service to our country!