Bodza is gone now. He lived to be 11 years old. But since 2006, he served his country in the U.S. Air Force as an explosive detection dog. He saved lives by sniffing out bombs during stints in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Kyle Smith only began working with Bodza in 2012, but the two formed a special bond that would carry them to the end of their road together. The pair lived through a lot — serving 189 bitterly cold days on a security mission in Kyrgyzstan. It was just the beginning of a beautiful, lasting friendship.
“I loved working with him because he taught me a lot — patience as a young handler, and how to understand that this job isn’t just about you,” Smith told The Dodo.
Despite all the hard work, Smith and Bodza spent plenty of leisure time together.
“Bodza was a goofy and gentle dog,” Smith said. “We had horse stables directly beside our obedience yard and when [the horses] were out, no obedience was going to be done. He’d run the fence line continuously.
“He liked to bark at his own shadow, so I’d always mess with him that way — make my hand a shadow on the ground and move it,” Smith said. “I guess he thought it was a rabbit.”
When it was time for Bodza to retire, Smith jumped at the chance of adopting him. “I took him home the same day,” he said. “He was even more loyal at home. He followed me around everywhere. He would lay his head down flush with the bed and tell me good night, every night.”
Sadly, in the summer of 2016, Bodza was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive, incurable disease that affects the spinal cord.
“His hind limbs lost their use and he could barely stand up anymore, much less walk,” Smith said. “He couldn’t handle the stress on his body and using the restroom was a task.”
Knowing how hard Bodza’s life had become, Smith made the decision no dog lover ever wants to make — to put Bodza down. And when the day came last week, Smith, along with nine of his coworkers, took Bodza to the Fort Bliss Vet Clinic in El Paso, Texas. They laid a blanket on the floor, and made sure that Bodza felt as comfortable as possible.
“I was holding Bodza as he passed,” Smith said. “It was a rush of so many things. It was just overwhelming.”
Despite the sadness Smith was feeling, Bodza seemed happy in his last moments. “He had a smile on his face when he was getting put to sleep,” Smith said.
When Bodza finally passed on, Smith broke down. Luckily, his coworkers were there to support him.
“They let me sob like a baby. They pat me on the back and let me know it was going to be all right. My boss immediately went and grabbed a flag, and draped it over him and let me have a final moment. It was incredible,” Smith said. “There was heartache and peace all at once that came over me.”
Smith had Bodza cremated, and keeps his ashes at home, along with photos of his best friend. He also keeps Bodza’s collar on the rear view mirror of his car.
“I will never forget how loyal he was,” Smith said. “He was selfless — more than any human I’ve ever known. He’s done so much for next to nothing and did it with a smile. I miss him every day.”