Operation Bandit – An Abandoned Service Dog Comes Home
Operation Bandit is the journey of a service dog that ended up in a kill shelter and then the wrong home, when he was supposed to go to a veteran who was waiting for him. From an organization that unites service dogs with new homes to US Marine veterans, to a Marine veteran Police officer, to an Army veteran, it became a military mission to unite Derek with Bandit.
“See, a few weeks ago, someone sent me a link to a poor service dog down in Florida that had been abandoned in a kill shelter. His name was Bandit. I could tell a lot by just the photo; he looked alone and sad, kind of like he had no one and just wished he had someone to rescue him and love him like they cared. I thought to myself, holy crap that dog is me! We have to find each other.” Derek Chambers, US Army veteran
But it was tough trying to find each other in the middle of a convoluted series of problems.
Bandit’s journey began when a 3rd party organization contacted Derek and told him about a service dog at a shelter.
A “3rd party contacted him with our plea and then promised him Bandit when they couldn’t make that promise and then made it out to him that we went back on our promise. Not the case. We found out about Derek when they raised a fuss and let him know what happened so he was our number one choice when the family didn’t work.” Dena Van De Vanter
Derek was so excited he couldn’t sleep. His own Service Dog Maggie had unexpectedly passed away, and he wondered if he would ever be able to have a Service Dog again. Mila Leonard, founder of RWBDogTags (Red, White, and Blue Dog Tags) and Dena Van De Vanter at RWB, worked tirelessly in an effort to get Bandit to his forever home.
Dena contacted Derek and asked if he was still interested.
“Hell, Yeah!” was the response.
But his heart breaking response to Dena’s phone call was,
“If you get him to me, you’re not going to take him away from me are you?”
The route through the wrong home
Someone else had ended up with Bandit, but it didn’t work out and he once again was left without a forever home. He might have ended up at the Polk County Shelter, which generally euthanizes animals left there within a few hours. But Operation Bandit was about to kick into high gear.
The dog was in Florida, and Derek was in Tennessee…a little logistics issue. RWB reached out to every one they could think of for transport, most of whom could have cared less. “Meh” was the response from most, according to Dena.
They finally contacted Gail Fogel Pierce, who transports animals to better homes regularly. She was ready to go. It seemed as if they found the perfect method. A veterinarian examined Bandit and certified him healthy for travel. It was all set.
Until Gail was admitted to the hospital with a serious back injury and couldn’t take him to his new home.
An active duty Navy sailor also volunteered to take Bandit to Tennessee. But then Hurricane Irma hit. So that transport fell through as well, since it was unlikely that his CO would understand that he was rescuing a dog instead of reporting for duty.
The Military Mission Begins
RWB member Dade Newell, USMC veteran, had just moved to Florida, and started contacting his military friends, including Rick at Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, who called Bill Simmons. Bill is a Marine Veteran, former military dog handler (5812), who is a member of the Oath Keepers.
He contacted Officer Nathan Naumann of the Pinellas Park Police, also a Marine veteran and dog handler, who went and picked up Bandit as his house guest until the path to his new dad could be ironed out. That action prevented Bandit from ending up in the kill shelter once again.
“Ma’am, the Marines have landed. You tell them, we’ve got this and will take care of our brother (Bandit) in need.” Bill Simmons
Now they needed to get Bandit from Officer Nathan’s home to Derek in Tennessee. A homeless Army Veteran, Ian Carter, who himself has been going through hard times, volunteered to take Bandit to Derek. Because RWB didn’t want him to use his own limited resources, they planned to pay his gas and lodging for the trip, but he refused.
Ian and Bandit left early Thursday morning, 9-28-2017, on the last leg of the journey.
Operation Bandit Completed
As you can see from the photos, Ian made it to meet up with Derek. Bandit is with his new Dad in a forever home. But if you thought that story ended there, you’d be mistaken.
The ladies at RWB Dog Tags went to work, and Mila was able to score a place for Ian to live. There will now be one less homeless veteran in America, thanks to their efforts!
As for Derek, he suffered a TBI during deployment, and has PTSD, which is why he needed a dog who would be with him at all times. He found that being outdoors, hunting and fishing helped him with the symptoms. So he founded an organization called Rifles to Reels.
“Bandit means everything. He is my key to leading the same life that everyone else lives. It’s hard not being able to go anywhere public because you don’t feel secure. It’s bad not to be able to feel like a normal person while just trying to do something as simple as go out to eat. For everyone to look at you weird when you ask for a table in the back so you can see the door and everyone inside. He gives me that security.” Derek Chambers