Retired Lance Corporal Bradley O'Keefe is reuinted with his K9 partner, Earl. O'Keefe's sister, Rachel Lawson, at right, was a key part of the reunion. Photo by Kim Kalunian, WPRO News.
By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
When Lance Corporal Bradley O'Keefe was injured by an IED with his K9 partner Earl, he never thought he would see him again.
O'Keefe was sent home from Afghanistan to be treated for his injuries, but Earl was sent back into duty.
That was in 2010, and since then, the now-retired O'Keefe has been wondering where is friend and partner was.
After seeing a documentary about retired military dogs, O'Keefe's sister, Rachel Lawson, went on a mission to track down Earl and reunite the dog with her brother. After putting out feelers on Facebook and getting response from across the country, Lawson was able to track down Earl, who was serving on the explosives detection team at the Rhode Island State Police.
On Friday, Lawson and O'Keefe travelled from their homes in Rochester, New York to the State Police headquarters in Scituate, where O'Keefe and Earl were reunited.
"I thought I would be happy and excited, but it's more than that," said O'Keefe. "Seeing him is better than I imagined."
O'Keefe said he doubted he would see Earl again, but through the help of Lawson and the State Police, the reunion became a reality. A tattoo inside Earl's left ear was a crucial identifying mark for those looking to reconnect man and dog.
O'Keefe said back in 2010, Earl had alerted him to the IED that ultimately caused his injuries and subsequent retirement from the Marines, and the dog likely saved 13 lives. But because Earl and O'Keefe had to press on, they sustained injuries while the rest of the soldiers they were travelling with remained safe. O'Keefe said he doesn't know how things would have turned out that day if it weren't for Earl.
Despite the strong bond they formed, O'Keefe said he tried to remain realistic about seeing Earl again.
"I tried to move on because I didn't know what was going to happen," he said, "But there was always a place in my heart for him."
O'Keefe and Earl, who's also retired now, will now return to New York. O'Keefe said he plans to take Earl for long walks and play games, two things they weren't able to do before.
Earl walks to meet his former partner at the Rhode Island State Police headquarters Friday.