CHICAGO (CNN) — At Midway Airport people learned a new twist on an old truism: absence makes the hound grow fonder.”
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but nine-year-old U.S. Marine canine Atilla r7-89 still had one surprise for his old partner. The German Shepherd and trained tracker worked with marine sergeant Jacob Varela.
They were together for three years in a special operations unit.
Sgt. Jacob Varela, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), said, “I got stuck with him in 2014, I brought him from Lackland, he was a combat tracker. And we were together for 3 years. I got out and haven’t seen him since.”
The two formed a lasting bond, but have not seen each other since July of 2017– until their reunion Tuesday.
Varela said, “We were together for everything. Everywhere I went, he was with me. When we were out in the field, out there for a month, month and a half, whatever, I mean, he was with me. If I was drinking water, he was drinking water, if I was eating, he was eating. He becomes like your teammate.”
Military dogs do demanding and draining work. Eventually, the dogs have to retire.
When Sgt.Varela learned Atilla could no longer work, he wanted to adopt his old buddy. That’s where a group called Mission K-9 Rescue stepped in.
Kristen Maurer of Mission K-9 Rescue explained, “These dogs serve with these guys, they spend 24/7 training with them, putting their lives on the line together, so there’s a bond that we can’t understand.”
So when Southwest Airlines Flight 7 from Houston arrived it was clear: this dogs bark was worth the long flight.
Varela said, “The way he reacted, the way he jumped, he knows who I am, so that’s good.”
Sgt. Varela has left the United States Marines. He’s no longer active. He’s now working on earning his college degree. Meantime, he says Atilla has earned a relaxing retirement.