MIESAU, Germany - Pvt. Kaitlin Haines still gets a little teary-eyed when she talks about Cak, a local military working dog who was put to rest last December.
"We just became best friends, as close as you could come with a dog," said Haines, Cak's handler and a Soldier with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment.
Cak was a military working dog who "chose" Haines on June 10, 2013. At the time, 7-year-old Cak already had quite a lengthy resume, having previously worked with four different dog handlers. Everyone in the unit described Cak as "old" and "mean," but Haines felt an instant connection.
"I just sat in there in (his kennel) with him, and he came and laid his head right on top of me, and that was it," Haines said. She knew Cak was the one that very first day.
From the moment they were paired, Haines and Cak did everything together, from patrol work to daily obedience training. "I've been on a whole bunch of missions where I had to stay at a hotel with him for weeks on end," Haines said.
Haines and Cak were, so to speak, "hand in paw." Even during those last days when Cak became ill, suffering from a severe case of hygroma -- a condition that affects a dog's elbows and joints, Haines never left his side.
"My plan was to adopt him out and take him home with me. The (veterinarians) were saying, 'He needs medical attention.' I was saying, 'He's fine.' Of course, it was all denial. I didn't want to lose my best friend," Haines said. That December, following the medical opinion of local veterinarians, she made the decision to put him to rest.
Two months later, a memorial service for Cak was held on Feb. 9 at the Miseau Chapel. At the front of the alter, atop his crate, was an urn with Cak's ashes. Many Soldiers attended the service, bringing poems and eulogies showing their respect for the veteran dog. When Haines approached the podium and gave her eulogy, many of the Soldiers in attendance had tears in their eyes. Spc. Sara Martinez, also a handler with the 100th MWDD, stated, "It was very beautiful."
For Haines, the days with Cak are gone forever, symbolized by the tipped water bowl at the door of his crate. "[It represents] he isn't coming back home," she said.
It has been several months now since Cak passed away, and Haines has a new dog, Beny. There is no comparison between the two though, Haines says. Beny is a 3-year-old German Shepherd, more energetic than Cak, and the kind of dog that says, "I'm just going to run around."
"But, he's a good dog," Haines said.
Haines loves to be a dog handler. Though she now has Beny, Cak will always be in her heart.
"You work with the dog every day. Their job is to serve and protect your life. All Cak wanted to do was make me happy. That was it," she said.