Army Vet Mourns the Loss of Service Dog and Retired Military K-9 After He Was Fatally Shot by Cyclist
The dog's owner hopes to bury him with military honors
A Wyoming military veteran said he doesn’t believe how his service dog, a retired military K-9 he had raised since he was a puppy, was shot and killed last week by a bicyclist who felt threatened, according to the Powell Tribune.
“As a dog and a companion, he was probably one of the most loyal animals to anyone he came across,” Matthew Bessler told the paper. “If he knew you and you were in my house, he was by your side, leaning up against you.”
“He has his story,” Bessler said. “I know my dog. I have my story.”
The dog, a Belgian Malinois named Mike, served with Bessler in the U.S. Army in Iraq, Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman C. Lance Mathess said in a press release to PEOPLE.
After returning home to Powell, Mike became Bessler’s service dog, both of them diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Tribune.
Their relationship was profiled in the Washington Post in July.
“Michael is a brother. He needs me just as much as I need him,” Bessler told the Post then.
“I raised him and trained him as a puppy, and the ability he has to sense some of the issues that I have with seizures, with my PTSD, my TBI [traumatic brain injury] and severe anxiety disorders, how he can calm me down just by him being in my presence. He can help take the focus and help change the focus of what’s going on with me and help me calm down or relax me,” Bessler told the Billings Gazette.
The cyclist who shot Mike said he was attacked by the dog while riding that morning, forcing him to use his bike as a shield, according to the sheriff’s release.
The man “said he was genuinely in fear of his life and well-being, and the dog was ‘definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all,’ ” according to the release.
The man said he shot Mike with a single round of bird shot in the rear of his body from about 5-10 feet away, but did not believe he had killed him, according to the Tribune.
The man was uninjured, according to the release.
A witness who only saw what happened after the man fired on Mike said the man and his bike were in the intersection of the road, Park County Sheriff Scott Steward told the Tribune.
“Essentially, if you feel your life is in danger or threatened by an animal, you can act against it,” Steward said.
“Everything’s pretty consistent with what the victim’s telling us,” he said.
He said the incident was “tragic all the way around.”
Bessler was in the Big Horn Mountains at the time, according to the Tribune, and the friend who was watching Mike doesn’t know how he got out of Bessler’s home, according to the release.
Mike “would never attack someone,” Bessler said. “The only time he ever protected property was when somebody stepped on to my property and looked into the back of my truck.”
Bessler said he believes the man shot his dog on his property.
“If it went down the way the guy said it did, then so be it,” he said. “But I’m disgusted with the fact that the guy hasn’t even shown his face to say, ‘I’m sorry this happened.’ ”
A GoFundMe has been created to raise money for Mike’s burial, which Bessler hopes will be with military honors. As of this writing, it has raised more than $4,200 out of a goal of $6,000.
An organization called Cowboys and Canines has offered to let Bessler pick out another puppy and have it trained as a new service dog, according to the GoFund Me. When Bessler is ready.
In Iraq, Mike served on a canine tactical team, according to the Post, and he detected thousands of pounds of explosives and bomb-making materials.
For his service, he was promoted – to major.
Bessler told the Post then, “When you can escape yourself for a minute, and stop being selfish and think about the things you have, in my world it’s that dog.”
Bessler did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.