HAMPTON, Minn. - There are plenty of heartfelt stories being shared on social media and around the water cooler Tuesday about dogs and cats, and how they make life better... understandable, considering it is National Love Your Pet Day.
JT and Hunter Overland have their own tale, one that has a few more twists than most. It involves a black lab named Jackson who came into their lives, was pulled from them by duty and service to country, and is now reunited in his forever home.
The journey started in 2013 at Camp Pendleton, California, where JT was stationed as a K9 handler for the U.S. Marine Corp. He and Hunter were just starting to date, and she would fly from Minnesota to visit him. A big part of those visits would involve Hunter visiting the Marine K9 kennel and playing with the dogs. Although Jackson was not JT's partner at the time, Hunter noticed the big black lab and developed a special friendship with him.
"I remember walking up to his kennel and him hopping in place so excited that someone was there. I reached my hand inside of his kennel and he stood up and wrapped his paws around my arm to hold himself up, and laid his big adorable head in my palm," she recalls. "I'm pretty sure my heart exploded and at that moment I became obsessed with him."
When JT's K9 partner Dino was retired in 2015 and he had to select a dog to deploy with him to track and detect bombs in Kuwait and Djibouti, he chose Jackson (Hunter laughingly says JT had no choice in the matter).
JT explains that the relationship between a handler and his dog is extremely close, as during deployments they do 'everything' together... work, eat, sleep... 24-7. He describes Jackson as one of the best specialized search dogs he has encountered, a K9 that did his job with playful enthusiasm.
"He loves to please his handler... That's the number one thing about him," Overland explains.
When JT decided to retire from the Corps in October of 2016 Jackson was still considered an active duty K9 with the Marines, and was assigned to another handler at Camp Pendleton. JT and Hunter returned to Minnesota with their other two dogs, Cruize (a German Shepherd) and Kahlua (a Husky mix) but Jackson's presence was badly missed.
More than a year passed, with the Overlands keeping a careful eye on the calendar. In February of 2018 Jackson turned 8 1/2, and the Corps declared him officially retired. Late last week JT flew to Camp Pendleton where he reunited with his best pal and partner. When the two touched down at MSP International Airport Hunter and Jackson had their own special reunion.
The days since have involved Jackson getting reacquainted with his pals Cruize and Kahlua, playing with new toys and doing a LOT of sleeping on the couch. Sounds a lot like retirement (which it is), only better.
"We have loved this pup since the very beginning of our relationship and our hearts could burst with happiness that our goofy, slobbery, sweet elephant is home and with us FOR GOOD!," Hunter wrote in a Facebook post. "We cannot wait to give this boy thee most amazing retired life and to show him what life can really be all about."