STOKESDALE, N.C. -- Explosives-detection dog Ody was only weeks away from being put-down at his kennel in Afghanistan.
"The kennel master gave me two options with the dog. Either find someone to adopt him or he will be euthanized," explained Brian Friddle.
Friddle was working as a dog handler in Kabul when he came across Ody, a Belgian Malinois. The American service dog was retired at only two years old.
"If you got him out into crowded spaces, around loud noises, he would shut off. He would shut down completely," Friddle described.
After a little research, Friddle found out why this highly-trained dog was no longer working.
"A previous handler of his was possibly killed in Afghanistan, which could account for a lot of the issues he's having."
Friddle said it was like seeing post-traumatic stress disorder in a dog. Ody was running in circles in his kennel all day, causing him to drastically lose weight. He couldn't serve anymore, but Friddle could not imagine letting him be killed.
"We're not letting that dog get put down," Friddle promised.
When he called his wife Julie, also a veteran, she agreed.
"I said I don't care what we need to do. We'll take him. We'll find him a home or we'll keep him ourselves," Julie told FOX8.
Friddle was told it would take $30,000 to ship Ody and another dog facing a similar fate back to the U.S. Finally they found a rescue group that agreed to get Ody back home.
Ody is named after Odysseus, Homer's legendary war hero who spent ten years traveling home after the Trojan War.
It didn't take a decade, but Ody's short life already epitomized a tragic adventure. He still has shrapnel in his legs, likely from detecting bombs while working. He was a war dog wanting to find home.
"I think he was 44 or 45 pounds when he came here," Julie remembered.
Friddle was still in Afghanistan, so Julie and their daughter Katie picked Ody up from the airport last June. His journey to the U.S. took him through France, then Florida. It all took more than a month, and they had no idea how he would react to strangers.
"It was instant love. I mean he jumped up. I let him go over and sniff [Katie] and he just slobbered in her face," Julie laughed.
It was love at first sight for the family, but Ody ended up finding his forever home with another veteran.
Friddle's parents put them in touch with disabled veteran Richard Howe in Greensboro. Howe also served in Afghanistan.
Howe told FOX8 he always wanted a Belgian Malinois because he had worked around one before and he knows how talented and smart the breed is.
Neither Howe nor his wife expected to have such an instant connection with Ody.
"The day that they met, Ody's first response to him was: run up, jump up on him, put his paws on him, on his chest," Friddle said.
"Rick instantly just picked him up in his arms and you could just tell they just clicked," added Julie. "Him and Rick are just inseparable."
Their relationship helped both Ody and Richard start to heal.
Ody will likely always have some of his training instincts and is skittish around large crowds and door frames. The Howes said he still tracks the backyard up and down, sniffing for danger.
In Greensboro, Ody's daily missions now involve catching butterflies and carpenter bees. He's also been known to swallow a sock or two.
Ody happily gained weight in his retirement.
A New Mission
They all began to consider, if one war dog could connect with one veteran so deeply, why not try to save more?
Friddle started a group called "Pets to Vets" and is working on a business plan. He hopes to build a large kennel in Rockingham County.
"One of our primary goals with the kennel is to do nonprofit work to try to get more dogs like Ody back home, the ones being retired, before they are euthanized," he said.
He continued, "I think pairing them up with a veteran that's having issues... they know how to take care of each other. And lick each other's wounds so to speak."
His idea is to let disabled veterans care for the dogs at the kennel and eventually adopt them.
"I would love to save hundreds," Friddle said.
At a time when so many veterans are unsure about a purpose back home, Friddle is thankful his goals have become clear thanks to Ody. "That's my calling. To bring more of these dogs home."
They explained how these elite dogs are bought and trained by the United States, but some end up with contractors overseas while others work directly with the military.
Those working with the military get some veterinary benefits on retirement and, if wounded, would likely be brought home. But it's not the same story for dogs like Ody working with contract groups. Howe and Friddle believe all dogs fighting for America should be treated with dignity.
How You Can Help
Bringing the dogs home will be expensive, Julie pointed out. They'll have to cut through red tape and raise thousands of dollars.
They are hoping the community will support them with in-kind and financial donations.
"The dogs themselves deserve it and so do the veterans," Friddle added, hoping they can save more war dogs from euthanasia.
Pets to Veterans Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PetstoVets2014
Donations can be made at Oak Ridge Bank to "Pets to Vets."
Do you have a way to help the Friddles? Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.