A Bittersweet story to write.. “Eli the War Dog Adopted by His Fallen Comrade’s Family”

Posted on February 9, 2011


Pfc. Colton Rusk and his war dog, Eli

This was one of the more bittersweet stories I’ve had to write. After leafing through various articles I decided to google the young Marine in the story in search of more photos and information about him and his dog.

My heart broke as I came up on photo after photo of Pfc. Colton Rusk and his war dog, Eli, sharing their cot, training together and sharing happy moments together. The bond they shared was truly as real and as deep as everyone said it was. You could actually see that both Rusk and Eli had an understanding, their energy and facial expression in the images were as one. So it isn’t surprising that Eli was the first to protect Rusk after he was tragically shot and killed by a sniper last December.

What is surprising is the fact that this was only the second war dog that has been adopted by a handler’s family. The military spends thousands of dollars training these war dogs and in turn they save a countless amount of lives by sniffing out danger. On one hand I can understand that they have a job to do and many soldiers who depend on them. But at the same time I’m torn, especially after writing about the first meeting between Eli and the Rusk Family. It must have given those two families so much comfort to have a smart part of their child back through the dogs that fought by their side.

Read through the article and let me know what you think about allowing soldier’s families to adopt their war dogs.


Eli the War Dog Adopted by His Fallen Comrade’s Family

Posted on 09. Feb, 2011 by Kara Ogushi in NEWS


Colton Rusk and Eli Dogs have always been known as man’s best friend, and in war the bond goes one step further, because they have to entrust their lives to one another.

According to the Associated Press, military officials believe that Pfc. Colton Rusk and his war dog, Eli, ”came under fire in Afghanistan after another vehicle in a Marine convoy ran over a hidden explosive. Rusk was shot after the soldiers stopped to secure the area.” 

They also suspect that he might have been trying to tie up Eli when he was shot, which might explain why he was singled out.

“The enemy is aware that the dogs are finding their stuff, so it’s logical they would pick a dog or handler to take out,” Doug Miller, the Defense Department’s military working dog program manager, told the Associated Press.

What’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that Eli was the first to reach Rusk after he was shot, and proceeded to protect him from everyone, including the other Marines who rushed to help him. 

“Eli bit one of them,” Rusk’s father, Darrell, told the Associated Press, recalling the story told to him by other Marines.

Rusk’s family has decided to adopt Eli, a black Labrador Retriever, into their family because of the close bond that they shared. “Eli even shared Rusk’s cot when sleeping,” Yvonne Rusk, Colton’s aunt, told scrippsnews.com.

According to the Associated Press, “The two quickly grew inseparable. Military dogs are supposed to sleep in kennels when deployed, but Rusk broke the rules and let Eli curl up with him on his cot. Other times, the dog took up the entire sleeping bag. Rusk ate ready-to-eat meals, so that’s what Eli ate instead of dog food, Darrell Rusk said.”

“Whatever is mine is his,” Colton Rusk wrote on his Facebook page.

Eli and Rusk were partnered up in May 2010 and shipped out on Rusk’s 20th birthday. Rusk was an avid dog lover who grew up with several dogs on his family’s ranch in Orange Grove, just outside Corpus Christi, Texas.

“Every time he called home, it was always about Eli,” Kathy Rusk said of her son. “It gave me some comfort knowing that Colton wasn’t alone over there.”

When Eli was finally formally introduced to Rusk’s family, he could hardly contain himself.

EliAccording to the Associated Press, “Eli wagged his tail furiously when he was brought into a small room inside the 37th Training Wing to meet his new owners. A Marine staff sergeant tried to get the dog to sit obediently while he read a letter of thanks to the family, but he relented after Eli kept lunging forward to sniff Rusk’s mother, Kathy. When the leash was finally handed to Darrell Rusk, his wife and two sons each crouched down to hug and pet Eli, who lifted his front right paw to invite their hands toward his belly. All were crying.”

Kathy Rusk whispered the words that would solidify Eli’s place with his new family.

“You’re going home and relaxing,” Kathy said, leaning in close to Eli and rubbing his snout. “You’re going home.”

PHOTOS: facebook.com

Related Posts: