RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Dozens of soldiers say the U.S. Army gave away the dogs they served with, without ever contacting them.
It’s a situation that now has the Army in the middle of an internal investigation, and put at least one dog in the middle of a custody battle.
A solider in Texas is now suing a family in North Carolina to try to get the dog back.
Bomb Sniffing Dogs
They’re fast, they’re smart, and at K2 solutions in Southern Pines dogs are being trained to sniff out bombs.
“They’re not pets. The dogs are lifesaving machines,” explained K2 CEO Lane Kjellsen.
“K-9s are, unquestionably the best way to detect an explosive device,” he added.
The government has spent millions of dollars trying to find technology that can match a dog’s nose.
“They failed,” Kjellsen said. “We think it’s better to detect an explosive device without putting a human in danger.”
The dogs do on and off leash training and will sit when they detect an explosive device.
K2 was sub-contracted to train the dogs for the US Army.
In 2011 the Army started the T.E.D.D program, Tactical Explosives Detection Dog, pairing trained dogs with combat soldiers.
That’s where Sgt. Ryan Henderson first met his battle buddy.
“It was intimidating because I like to joke, and keep things light-hearted so I stood up and told the instructors and everyone in the room how bad I was and I was the baddest thing walking around,” Henderson joked. “We’re all laughing and one of my buddies saw the sheet and said dude I think you messed up because they wrote Satan next to your name.”
Satan — the big, black, bomb sniffing German Shepherd.
After months of training, Henderson and Satan suited up, shipped out, and served.
“I trusted him to keep the most important men in my life alive, and I don’t know of any bond stronger than that,” Henderson said.
The dog found a permanent place in Henderson’s heart and on his arm. He got a tattoo of Satan’s face.
“He was my world. We literally spent every minute together,” Henderson said.
Every minute for sixth months, until Henderson had a seizure.
He was hospitalized, separated from Satan, and spent the next couple of years fighting a traumatic brain injury, anxiety and PTSD.
His dog continued to work and Henderson says he periodically tried to find out where Satan was.
But in 2014, the army ended the T.E.D.D program and decided to get rid of the dogs.
“I tried to look for him again, I tried to file my paperwork and then I fell off the map because life kinda got the best of me,” said Henderson.
The Army sent representatives to K2 in North Carolina to adopt the dogs out.
That’s where the now retired Satan met a new companion as a gift from a wife.
“She said, ‘guess what I got?’” explained Shawn Richardson. “I come up in the yard and there’s this big black German Shepherd charging at me rolling around my legs and I got down a little bit where I can reach him and right then me and him were pals.”
A perfect pal, since Shawn Richardson is also retired army and always has Satan by his side.
“The dog is my right hand man, you know, he looks out for the old man. He’s like one of my children just about, I love him to death,” Richardson said.
Not Following Policy
According to federal law, army handlers should have had the first chance to adopt the 229 dogs.
Ryan says the Army never contacted him.
“They just had a big adoption day and got rid of the dogs as quickly as they could,” said Congressman Richard Hudson.
He called for an investigation and helped changed the law: Before, the law said the Army should contact handlers to give them the first chance to adopt the dogs, but now it says the Army shall contact the handlers.
“To deny that to our services members who risk it all for us is a real shame,” Hudson said.
The Army’s Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into how the adoptions were handed.
“My phone number and email have not changed since before I enlisted in the army. And my home of record is my parents’ address, and they still live there, so any attempt to contact me, I would have been easy to find,” Henderson said.
But now Satan is part of a new family and part of a custody battle.
Ryan wants the dog back.
“It’s supposed to happen that way. It was set up to happen that way. Things should go the way they’re supposed to,” Henderson said. “A lot of people just say, ‘Eh, it didn’t happen,’ and they go on about their life. I don’t.”
Man’s Best Friend With Two Best Friends
“I contacted the family that had him, and that’s how it all started,” Henderson said.
“If he would have contacted me that week or that month or something like that we probably would have worked something out. But it was nearly two years after the fact that we get contacted, and [Satan] has become an integrated part of my house, my family,” Richardson said.
The story spread all over social media and Richardson said he and his family started getting harassed online.
“I mean I’ve heard that before, but God I hope people weren’t doing that because it wasn’t in my bidding,” Henderson said.
“It’d be like pulling someone out of my home, a family member because that’s what he’s become,” said Richardson.
Ryan has now filed a lawsuit against Richardson. He claims the Richardson’s adoption violated his “right to first refusal” of the dog.
“We didn’t take the dog from him. We got the dog from the Army. And as far as we knew everything was straight,” said Richardson.
“I don’t know them personally, so I don’t know the bond they have with [Satan]. I just know they were notified well before the two years that they’re talking about,” Henderson said. He said his lawyer didn’t want him to talk about the lawsuit.
“It hurts me to think someone is going to take him from me. I know ultimately at the end of the day I may not be able to stop that, but I’m going to try,” said Richardson.
“You can’t blame a family who’s had a dog for a year or two or longer, who loves that dog not wanting to give that dog up. I don’t blame these families who adopted these dogs in good faith at all,” Hudson, the congressman, said.
He also passes the blame on the Army. “The military by not doing this the right way put both parties in a really tough position,” Hudson said.
“I’m just glad that the court system has decided to hear our case. I’d love to have him back and other than that that’s really all I ever wanted,” said Henderson
“I don’t want anything from this man; I don’t want to cause him no harm. I don’t want to cause anyone harm, I just want him to leave me be,” Richardson said.
“There’s still a fight out there so I’m not giving up yet,” said Henderson. “My intentions for doing this are all noble. I have no ill will. I have no malice. That’s not my motivation.”
CBS North Carolina asked the Army for an on camera interview to discuss this situation. They initially agreed, but then backed out. They told us to email them questions, which we did and are still waiting for a response.
The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation report is supposed to be finished this summer. We will update the story as soon as we get it.