Marines let family adopt slain son’s bomb-sniffing dog

Published 2:24 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Georgia-based military dog wounded in Iraq by an explosion that killed its Marine handler will be released from duty so it can be adopted by the slain Marine’s family, the Marine Corps said Wednesday.

The adoption of the 8-year-old German shepherd, Lex, by the family of fallen Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee marks the first time the U.S. military has granted early retirement to a working dog so it could live with a former handler’s family, officials said.

Lee’s family from Quitman, Miss., is scheduled to pick up Lex from the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., on Dec. 21 — exactly nine months after a rocket-propelled grenade killed Lee and wounded Lex in Fallujah on March 21.

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“We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” said Jerome Lee, the slain Marine’s father. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”

The Lee family lobbied the military for months to allow it to adopt Lex. Though some shrapnel remains lodged in his back, Lex has otherwise recovered from his wounds and has been serving alongside military policemen at the Albany base since July.

The U.S. military has about 2,000 dogs that work alongside American troops, and their bomb-sniffing skills have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress passed a law in 2000 allowing aging or disabled military dogs to be adopted by police departments, former handlers and possibly civilians if the dogs aren’t too aggressive. And an Air Force dog handler who was seriously wounded in Iraq in 2005 was allowed to adopt her bomb-sniffing dog after returning home.

But 2nd Lt. Caleb Eames, a spokesman for the Marine base in Albany, said Lex is the first able-bodied dog the military has released to a former handler’s family.

“Obviously their situation is very unique,” Eames said of the Lee family. “The military is proud to have dogs like Lex, but even more happy to be able to assuage the family’s grief.”