Soldier Gives a Home to Army Service Dog

Retired army service dog finds a home with soldier’s family

Diego dog rescue story for PetSmart Charities A“I had always wanted to be a soldier, like my Dad,” says Staff Sergeant Ken Feese, who enlisted in the United States Army at 17. Over the next 20 years, Ken saw some of the heaviest action our armed forces have been involved in: Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Determined Resolve, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, both in 2003 and 2009.  


In 2010, Ken came home to Pennsylvania and his wife Tami and son Dayne, now 10, and daughter Kenedy, now 8, and their two dogs and two cats. Not long after that, Ken began thinking of some other soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq—CWDs, or Contract Working Dogs.


The dogs of war

“CWDs and MWDs (Military Working Dogs) are trained for explosives and drug sniffing, border and other patrol work,” Ken explains.

Bred for the military, these dogs are never house pets, but when they’re retired, they’re usually brought back to the US and either sold or put up for adoption. Diego dog rescue story for PetSmart Charities B


“I saw an interview on the news about K9 Hero Haven, a shelter for retired working dogs,” Ken recalls, “and I thought, come hell or high water, I’m adopting one of those dogs.” He is quiet for a moment before continuing. “I wanted a dog that had been through some of the things I’d been through,” he says quietly. “I wanted to give another veteran a home.I couldn’t think of anything better than to adopt a dog that has saved people’s lives.”


Though Ken made it through many tours of duty uninjured, he, like many other soldiers, has returned with stories only another veteran can understand—even if that veteran is a Belgian Malinois named Diego.


CWD Diego served two and a half years in Afghanistan as a Patrol and Explosives Detection Dog. His handler kept Diego by his side 24/7. Then Diego was sent to Iraq, where his new handler kept him in a kennel whenever they weren’t working together. Possibly due to stress, Diego began chewing his tail, which was docked to keep him from injuring himself. After serving 8 months in Iraq, Diego was retired and shipped back to the US.




Diego dog rescue story for PetSmart Charities CKen and his family were vetted in an extensive application process by the K9 Hero Haven shelter. “They check your references, and they match the dog to the family,” Ken explains. “Some of these dogs have quirks; they can become hyper-vigilant when you put on a leash because they think they’re going to work. Some may not be good with other animals.”

At that time, the Feese family had cats and a small Maltese/Shih Tzu mix, Motley, so that narrowed down some of the prospects. Because Diego had just returned from duty, he wasn’t one of the initial candidates, but the shelter let him meet the Feese family anyway. “Diego walked up to my wife, put his head on her knee, and looked into her eyes,” Ken remembers, “And Tami said, ‘This is our dog.’


A week later, the retired veteran settled into his new home—his first as a house pet and beloved member of a family. “We have a unique bond. We understand what we’ve each been through.The hardest thing for him to learn was not to chase the cats,” Ken laughs. “But he’s a phenomenal dog—obedient, loving, great around my kids. No hyper-anxiety about the leash, none of the quirks. He just became a huge couch potato!” Diego does bear some of the scars of being a war veteran, though.

Diego dog rescue story for PetSmart Charities E“He has bad dreams sometimes, where he moans and carries on,” Ken says. “I just pet him and let him know it’s all right now.”

More rescue heroes:


Dodge, our 5th million adopted pet


World War II Veteran considers himself the lucky one


Triple save: From death row to life saver


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