by Andrea Sutherland
The inside of the black, leather vest Lani Singh made Billy is still covered in his fur. His kennel still sits in the corner of Singh’s living room. A bag on top of the kennel holds leftover baby food, the only food Billy could eat during the last days of his life.
Billy B041, a Dutch shepherd, retired military working dog and canine volunteer at Fort Carson, died April 27. He was 14 years old.
Soldiers, community members and three
dog teams gathered May 17 to pay respects to the combat veteran and furry friend at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center.
“I had to play the song (for Billy’s memorial video) twice,” Singh said. “I had too many pictures.”
The service contained readings and opportunities for friends of Billy to share stories. It closed with the playing of taps.
For 10 years, Billy served in the U.S. Air Force as an explosive detection canine. He completed several tours in Iraq before injuries to his back forced him into retirement.
“I gave him his honorary Purple Heart,” Singh said, pointing to one of the five medals that hang on Billy’s vest. “The military doesn’t give Purple Hearts to the animals. But he earned it.”
During his last tour, Billy suffered four broken vertebrae and burns to his back.
“People have skin grafts, well he had a fur graft,” Singh said. “Billy had scars on his eyes from the sandstorms.”
Although his injuries excluded him from working on the front lines, Billy soon found solace working on the homefront.
“When Billy walked into the SFAC the whole mood would just change,” Singh said. “Soldiers would hide treats and since Billy was a bomb-sniffing dog, he was 100-percent accurate all the time.”
Singh adopted Billy in April 2009, around the time she was dealing with her own medical issues.
A medic with the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Singh injured her back and had to medically retire from the Army.
“When I was getting ‘medboarded,’ Billy started coming with me to the SFAC to cheer up the Soldiers,” Singh said.
That work continued after Singh retired from the military.
“I had packed up all my uniforms in the garage and Billy pawed through them. He took my beret and sat by the door,” Singh said. “He wanted to be with the Soldiers.”
Singh said that when a friend asked her if she could adopt Billy, she didn’t hesitate.
“I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter if a Soldier comes home with two legs, four legs or no legs, they deserve to be taken care of,” she said.
Singh catered to Billy during his last two years – buying him numerous toys, throwing him a 13th birthday party complete with a steak dinner, and giving him a Tempur-Pedic mattress for his kennel.
“He was so spoiled but you know, he fought for our freedom,” Singh said. “After having such a rough life, he deserved to be comfortable in retirement.”
Despite the new comforts, Singh said Billy still reverted back to his military training, keeping a vigilant watch on his home and neighborhood.
“Even on walks he was always scanning,”
Singh said. “One time he found a firecracker in a neighbor’s yard and started ‘alerting.'”
When Singh’s mother, Elaine Oehman, came to visit, Billy refused to allow her inside until he inspected her bags.
“I had to line up all my meds before I came into the house so he could sniff them,” Oehman said, laughing.
Singh said Billy would “pull security” at a local park, guarding the children who played on the playground.
“One time a kid fell and started crying,” Singh said. “Billy started alerting until the kid’s parent got him. Another time he rescued a Chihuahua that got caught in a fence. He stood up and tapped his feet. When I came over he took me to the fence where the Chihuahua was.”