Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Sgt. Rex, one of the first dogs to serve in Iraq, dies

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Sgt. Rex, one of the first dogs to serve in Iraq, dies

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

Just three days before Christmas, a note bearing sad tidings came up on a Facebook feed:

Military working dog Rex (E168) passed away this morning. He was 11 years old (April 2001-December 2012). Rest in peace Rex and thank you for your service and sacrifice. Once a Marine, Always a Marine…Semper Fi

Former Marine dog handler Mike Dowling posted the notice. Rex had been Dowling’s dog in 2004 and, when they deployed to Iraq that year, they were one of the first U.S. dog teams to go into a combat zone since Vietnam.

Rex’s story is one we’ve followed closely here — from his stint with Dowling in Iraq (a harrowing story well told in Dowling’s 2011 book), to his heroic tour in Iraq during which he was gravely injured, and finally the dog’s highly publicized and star-studded transition from working dog to housedog. When Rex became eligible to retire from service last year, he was adopted by Marine handler Megan Leavey, who served with the dog in Iraq.

In his book, Sgt. Rex, Dowling writes how it was his bond to Rex that sustained him during their starkly dangerous tour; one in which their role was mostly undefined and ever evolving. A particularly moving passage in light of the dog’s recent death:

I keep thinking that a time will come when Rex is gonna flee from the next explosion with his tail between his legs. Or I’m gonna come to my senses and realize that I just can’t do another lonely, death-defying walk … But here’s the thing: Having Rex beside me helps give me the strength so I can face it. … Never once has he faltered when I’ve asked him to do the walk with me, not even when we’re under the enemy’s gun. And because of this, he’s put steel in my soul."

Complications with Rex’s health arose suddenly during the night of Dec. 21st and Leavey, who rushed him to the emergency vet, also posted a note on Facebook letting friends and fans know that Rex did not suffer long and when it became clear he could not be treated comfortably, she was confident euthanasia was the right decision. He went peacefully the following morning.

Leavey writes she was grateful she got to spend the last eight months with her "partner and best friend." During the time Rex lived with her, "he got to roam the yard & bark at deer, play with as many toys as he wanted all day everyday, sleep in a cozy bed next to me every night, chase and eventually make friends with my 2 cats, enjoy & play in his first snowfall."

RIP: MWD Spike, a dog reportedly stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Sand Diego and also 11 years old, passed away on Jan. 1.

Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.