GALESBURG, Ill. (KWQC) – It was a special reunion between man and man’s best friend at an airport in Chicago on Friday. Former First Class Petty Officer Chris Spears first met Rossi the Czech shepherd while serving in the Navy.
“It was like two weeks,” Spears said. “It was like, it’s over. I’m totally attached. I love this guy.”
After only three months in the US, they were deployed to Iraq.
“I still didn’t fully understand Rossi’s potential, so it was a little scary for me,” Spears said.
There, Rossi saved his handler’s life.
“Rossi came up and kind of started nudging me with his nose and I’m like, just go away,” Spears said. “Well, as soon as I got up, walked out the door, we were getting rocketed. I don’t remember exactly how many times but it was in the neighborhood of 7 to 10 that I remember … I knew right then that I knew I was going to come home, that everybody I was with was going to come home.”
Sure enough, they made it, as Rossi built up skills in bomb detection, open area searches, and more. But later, Rossi was sent to serve in Afghanistan with someone else.
“And I was like, there’s no way, you’re not taking my dog,” Spears said. “I had duty that night. I fed him chicken and rice and the next morning I handed my leash over.”
After more than seven years of service total, Rossi was set to retire, but he would need a home. In the Navy, the handler whose name is first on the K9’s medical records gets first choice.
“They called me and said do you still want to adopt Rossi and I’m like, absolutely,” Spears said.
Four years later, the two are back together.
“I was nervous, scared, emotional,” Spears said.
After meeting in Chicago, they celebrating at the Connie Nott Canine Area in Galesburg. Shave for the Brave and Project Dog Park had heard about the unique story of the two friends, deciding to team up and share it with the community.
“I was so excited I actually told my whole class about Friday and I was actually really excited,” Spears’ daughter, Maya, said.
“It’s so nice to see our local community coming together when any veteran comes home whether it’s a two-legged veteran or a four-legged veteran,” Shave for the Brave’s Crystal Wilson said.
Now, they’re headed home, where Rossi will relax and Spears will still serve, but with the Abingdon police.
“Rossi’s just going to watch TV,” Spears said. “I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll be a K9 handler again.”
Rossi received a number of gifts at the ceremony, including a day at the spa and a brick in his name, which will be permanently placed in a walkway at the dog park. His vet bills will also be covered for the rest of his life, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2257 declared Rossi has joined its ranks.