Lifestyle Pets Military Dog Handlers Reunite with and Adopt Their Former Canine Partners After Pups Retire American Humane helped reunite Army Veteran Michael Stepnovich and U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wade Alfson with their canine partners for May's Military Appreciation Month By Kelli Bender Published on May 26, 2021 06:21 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: American Humane/Ari Neiditz May's Military Appreciation Month was extra sweet for two dog handlers from America's armed forces. American Humane reunited both Army Veteran Michael Stepnovich and U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wade Alfson with the military dogs they worked with overseas. Not only did each man get a hug from their canine partner again, Stepnovich and Ssgt. Alfson both adopted their former patrol pals since the dogs are retired from active duty. Ssgt. Alfson was the first to see his old friend again, reuniting with Xxanthe, the Belgian Malinois, after a year apart in Honolulu, Hawaii — where Ssgt. Alfson is currently stationed — on May 5. The pair served together for 18 months, including two tours in the Middle East on classified missions, where the duo worked to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Now, Ssgt. Alfson is thrilled to have the opportunity to adopt Xxanthe, his best friend, and give her a comfort-filled, love-filled life. "She's such a caring dog. You can feel how much she cares about you," Ssgt. Alfson said of what he adores about Xxanthe, adding that the pooch was his "morale" overseas. American Humane/Ari Neiditz Along with Ssgt. Alfson, Xxanthe will be sharing her life with Kyra, a six-year-old Belgian Malinois that Ssgt. Alfson adopted after the dog failed out of military training because she was too startled by loud noises. "Now that she's retired, I mean, what a place to be retired into!" Ssgt. Alfson said of Xxanthe's new Hawaiian home. "Just the beaches in Hawaii. I live two minutes from the beach, so Xxanthe, me, and my other dog will just take trips to the beach, hang out, just vibe in Hawaii." American Humane/Ari Neiditz On May 21, Stepnovich reunited with Popeye the military dog. The two served together for 18 months in South Korea. The partners put in 2,000 hours doing patrol missions but went the past five months without seeing each other before meeting again in Las Vegas. "It was a lot of emotion. He looks amazing. It was a really emotional moment for me. I couldn't stop smiling. It's only been a few months for us, which is lucky, but it feels like it was a very long time," Stepnovich said of the reunion. "I was just overwhelmed with joy to see him again." American Humane/Ari Neiditz Army Sergeant Working to Rescue Stray Cat She Met During Deployment — and Her 3 Kittens It is clear that Popeye missed Stepnovich. The 7-year-old German shepherd started showing signs of severe separation anxiety and was taken off duty after he and Stepnovich originally parted. The military retired Popeye early, allowing Stepnovich to adopt the dog. Stepnovich is looking forward to caring for Popeye and hopes to work with dogs in the future as a trainer or handler. American Humane/Ari Neiditz "Having him back in my life is going to be absolutely amazing. I'm so excited to just show him the area and take him on my adventures because I like to get out and do stuff here in Vegas," Stepnovich shared. American Humane/Ari Neiditz American Humane, the country's first and largest humane organization, made these reunions possible through its military program dedicated to protecting the dogs that serve the United States. One way the organization cares for military canines is by placing the pooches with their former handlers once they retire. The bond between dog and handler is often unbreakable, and both humans and canines benefit from getting the chance to enjoy their friendships in everyday life. RELATED VIDEO: Man Surprises Military Best Friend After Three Years Apart It is common for military dog handlers and their pups to get separated or reassigned, making it hard for handlers to keep track of their canine partners. American Humane helps military dog handlers find their former partners and adopt them when they retire, guiding the handlers through the complicated and daunting process of transporting the pooch to their home. The organization also helps cover post-retirement medical care for the canines and travel expenses. "American Humane is thrilled to bring these heroic military dogs home to reunite with their best friends. Xxanthe and Popeye bravely served our country, and we are honored to give them the beautiful retirements they deserve. As we observe the upcoming Memorial Day and May's Military Appreciation Month, American Humane encourages everyone to celebrate the incredible military heroes on both ends of the leash," Dr. Robin Ganzert, the CEO of American Humane, said in a statement.