He was anxiously waiting at the airport for hours, wondering how the reunion would go. It’s been two years since he saw her, and he wasn’t sure if she’d even recognize him. The flight finally arrived, and everyone started to come out, and when he saw her, making her way, he knelt down and signaled her. He’d been waiting for this moment for so long, and he would forever cherish this in his heart.
Army Staff Sgt. Tom Hansen could’ve never predicted how strongly attached he’d become to Taylor the Labrador. Tom had been training to become a military service dog handler. Soon enough, he got deployed to Afghanistan. He had been to Iraq in the past, so this wasn’t his first rodeo. Taylor the Labrador was a bomb-sniffing dog who’d been trained to find ammo, weapons, vehicles, and of course, bombs. But Tom and Taylor’s relationship had become more than just “work buddies.”
Finally, Sgt. Tom and Taylor were off to their first mission, and they were just starting to get acquainted. Their first mission would prove to be an intricate one, as they were assigned to an 11-soldier special forces team, and went on a quest to search a mountain pass. Twenty minutes in, Taylor started acting strange, which meant she’d sniffed something. She started pinpointing a specific place, which alerted the soldier. He went on to find an IUD buried just inches away from his foot. This became quite an life lesson for him.
That’s when Sgt. Tom realized something crucial. “I learned from that day to always trust my dog and know that there is something there,” he said. Trust quickly turned into a super tight bond that kept both of them, (and their unit) safe from harm. Taylor kept on sniffing explosive traps and bombs left by insurgents. And if there was imminent trouble, Sgt. Tom would command Taylor to cover and hide. Once their missions were over, Taylor would always get a ball. Sgt. Tom believes it was Taylor who kept him alive on their missions.
After becoming Taylor’s handler, Sgt. Tom experienced several encounters with explosives that knocked him off, leaving him with wounds and concussions. He even admits, “I’m very lucky I came back with all my limbs.” But he’s grateful of having had the best partner ever. He said, “I thank her for it. She’s who I have. It’s because of her I came back alive. I wouldn’t have asked for anybody else.” Once his two deployments to Afghanistan ended, he was finally done with active duty. Now he wanted Taylor to leave with him.
Usually, dog handlers get to call dibs on adopting their dogs once they’re not on duty anymore, but when it was time for Sgt. Tom to take Taylor with him, he realized someone else needed her bomb-sniffing abilities. Sadly, Taylor stayed and that left Sgt. Tom completely heartbroken. He said, “When they save your life that many times, they become part of your family.” He added, “It’s so hard to let them go. That’s the hardest part of being a dog handler.”
Once Sgt. Tom went back home to the U.S., he was stationed at a Missouri base. Soon enough, he got into a relationship with Army Staff Sgt. Emily Donner who was a field medic, and had also served with him in Afghanistan. While she was stationed far away, at a Georgia base, the two made their long distance relationship work and eventually, got engaged. The happy couple moved to Boise, Idaho, which is Sgt. Tom’s hometown. But Taylor was still in his heart and memories.
Finally, Taylor was able to retire from active duty when she turned 10 years old. She hadn’t seen Sgt. Tom in over two years, back when they were both stationed in Afghanistan. But as soon as Sgt. Tom realized she was about to retire, he insisted that he wanted her to come live with him. As usual, things aren’t always that simple. When a soldier calls dibs on a dog, they must cover their transportation bills, which is extremely expensive and he simply couldn’t afford it. Luckily, someone else could.
Animal lover, Molli Oliver, who’s a fight attendant for United Airlines began helping retired military dogs meet up with their handlers in the US, by lending a helping hand. This prompted armed forces to have the utmost respect for the lady who’s reuniting dogs with their new families, and she’s the one covering all the expenses. She has been able to reunite three families already, and when she heard about Taylor and Sgt. Tom’s story, she knew she needed to do something about it.
To reunite Taylor with Sgt. Tom, Molli had to fly to the base where the Labrador was being kept after coming back from Afghanistan. As soon as she picked her up, she got first-class seats for both Taylor and herself. Finally, they landed in Boise. Molli quickly made her way through the airport to meet up with Sgt. Tom. The second Taylor spotted him, she ran into his arms. Everyone was tearing up.
Sgt. Tom said, “I think she recognized me immediately and she knew who I was, especially by the sound of my voice she knew it was Dad,” but their reunion didn’t sink in until later on. “But it really clicked in once we got her home. She was following me everywhere, she didn’t leave my side. So she knew she was finally home,” he said. Despite Taylor’s age, Sgt. Tom is willing to make every day they’ve got left together a memorable one.
Sgt. Tom is excited to give Taylor an amazing life. “I’m just going to give her the best retirement I can.” He’s also got plans to, “spoil her and do what I can to make the rest of her life happy and enjoyable.” They couldn’t see each other for two years, so now that they’re back together, he’ll never let her spend a day on her own again. “I want to take her everywhere I can with me,” Sgt. Tom said. “Just to be able to have as much time as I can with her for however much more time I have with her.” And if anyone deserves it after being through horrible things, it’s Taylor.
Being a military dog isn’t easy, and having been to war takes a toll on everyone, and that included Taylor. “Toward the end of our deployment, she started shutting down,” he explained. “She wouldn’t work if I was holding a weapon. She started putting two and two together. It definitely got rough on her. Dogs can get PTSD just as quick as a human can.” So when Molli decided to help, it was like a miracle, and finally, the poor Labrador would get to live with the handler who loved her the most.
Sgt. Tom said that he’ll be forever grateful to Molli. “Molli is like family now to us.” He also said, “What she did for me and Taylor was amazing. I couldn’t thank her enough for reuniting us.” After realizing how much she’s been changing lives, Molli started the process to finally launch a non-profit to be able to keep bringing more dogs back home, so they can live with their handlers. Molli asked Sgt. Tom to join her in her crusade, and he accepted. He would serve on the board of Molli’s organization, as he was an devoted animal lover.
But before Taylor came back into Sgt. Tom’s life, he had already opened up his home to Harley, a boxer who’d been shot and abandoned with a crushed throat. Harley desperately needed a home, and Sgt. Tom didn’t think twice and adopted him. That’s one of the many reasons why his fiancé fell in love with him.“If you love animals that much, you have to be a good person,” she stated. Who could disagree with her?