Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: November 10, 2023

Staff Sergeant Thomas Watkins reunited with his former colleague, Blek, a now-retired military dog whom he used to handle at a duty station.

Named after the old English term for “Black” or “Inky,” Blek had quite a reputation among the handlers as a tough one to manage prior to meeting with Watkins.

Watkins told “Good Morning America” about his experience meeting the canine for the first time.

“That was the issue that they were having,” Watkins said. “And so my kettle master pulled me in his office and was like, ‘Hey, man, I know you’re a new handler. But I feel like you’re up to this challenge.'”

It turned out his master was right and the two bonded instantly when they met.

“We just connected right off the bat,” Watkins told “GMA.” “We truly understood each other… Another handler was out there with me, and he was like man like, ‘I just never seen this dog be so affectionate toward someone.'”

Their relationship grew stronger ever since, making them a perfect match to carry out their duty as a team at the station.

“It’s such a beautiful experience, especially when you get a dog that has issues… And then you connect with that dog, and you get that dog to where they need to be,” Watkins explained. “It’s just such an awesome and rewarding experience.”

“The rest of the two and a half years that I worked [with] him from deployment to secret service missions all over the world,” he continued “We had no issues whatsoever.”

Their time spent together came to an end when Watkins was transferred to a different station, leaving Blek to be managed by other handlers who found the task difficult.

“It wasn’t looking good for Blek,” said Carlton Isaacson, a former military dog trainer.

That is when Project K-9 Hero came to the rescue, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing “assistance with medical costs, rehabilitation, adoption, food, and end of duty services in order to ensure their best quality of life and give them the retirements they deserve,” according to its website.

Praising the non-profit, Isaacson said the project “was a game changer,” adding, “They were able to provide him everything that he needed to be safe.”

Project K-9 Hero also allowed Watkins to adopt his old furry friend.

Expressing his gratitude, Watkins said, “I’m so thankful for those guys out there that they were able to take him in and hold him until I got to a place where I can truly take care of him and allow him to just be a dog on his retirement.”

Project K-9 Hero surprised Watkins on “GMA” with the news that the organization will cover all of Blek’s food and veterinary care for the dog’s lifetime.

Discussing his feelings for the special reunion, Watkins said: “I am overwhelmed with happiness. That dog is dear to my heart and he made me the handler and trainer that I am today. … It looks like [Blek] hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s happy. He looks healthy and I am just glad to be here right now.”

“I’m so thankful for that dog, and that’s why I’m excited to actually bring him home with me and live out his life,” he added.