AUSTIN–The Board of Trustees of the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) has decided to fund the veterinary care of Eli, the bomb-sniffing dog who was adopted by the family of a fallen Marine.

Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, the Texan from Orange Grove who grew up surrounded by dogs, was thrilled by his assignment to serve as a military dog handler in May 2010. When he was paired with the loyal Labrador Eli, they quickly bonded.

 In fact, according to an article by the  Associated Press, Rusk even let Eli sleep in his cot with him, which wasn’t allowed, and there’s talk that he often shared his food with Eli as well. 

“Every time he called home, it was always about Eli,” Kathy, Rusk’s mother, told the Associated Press. “It gave me some comfort knowing that Colton wasn’t alone over there.”

Dec. 6, 2010, Rusk and Eli were searching for hidden bombs in Afghanistan. Eli had been successful so far that day by sniffing out two bombs already, which is probably why they were targeted. A sniper fired on and killed Rusk, but Eli threw his body onto the fallen Marine and stayed with him until other Marines came to their aid.

When Rusk died, his parents decided to adopt the dog they had heard so much about, but it wasn’t a done deal. Eli had cost thousands of dollars to train, and since he was uninjured, considered still active. In fact, this would only be the second time that a military dog was adopted by the family of a handler killed in combat. It was more likely that the well-trained hero dog would be transferred to another handler. But considering the animal’s extreme bravery and loyalty, Doug Miller, secretary of the Navy, discharged Eli early and let him go home to his family.

“I’m sure it helps the family in the grieving process,” Miller told the Associated Press. 

Eli went home to live with the Rusks in early February.

Rusk and Eli’s story captured the attention of TVMF when State Rep. Jose Aliseda from Beeville and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa from McAllen filed HCR79 in the state legislature to honor the pair of heroes and their family. Representative Charles “Doc” Anderson, a veterinarian from Waco, relayed this touching story to members of the TVMF who decided to do their part to honor the memory of Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk’s sacrifice to his country by helping to ensure that his friend receives all of the health and wellness care that he may need in the future.

TVMF is happy to assist with the veterinary care of this hero dog. TVMF’s mission is to celebrate the human-animal bond; Eli and Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk exemplify that bond.