Mitch Romero first met Rodeo in 2010.
“Just a really, really happy dog. Always smiling, I swear he [has] this huge grin he wears on his face 24/7,” Romero said.
Romero and Rodeo were paired up by the Marines Corps. Rodeo was trained to detect bombs and improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
When Romero deployed for the second time to Afghanistan in 2011, Rodeo was right by his side.
“We did 110 patrols, and during that time, Rodeo served on about 45 of those,” Romero said.
But the 140-degree temperature in Afghanistan soon proved to be too much for Rodeo. After several months, Romero made the difficult decision to send Rodeo back to the United States. Romero returned himself a few months later– and began the search for Rodeo.
“It was a headache,” Romero said.
Red tape made it impossible for Romero to track down the dog he called his “battle buddy.” But the veteran never lost his hope he might be reunited with Rodeo.
“It was kind of heartbreaking. I didn’t know where he was or how he was or whether he was OK,” Romero said.
In 2014, after three years of searching, Romero discovered Rodeo’s ear tag number – the tattoo given to military working dogs for identification. He became hopeful, but hit yet another wall.
Then, two years later, Romero found the non-profit organization Canine Working Heroes. He posted about his search for Rodeo. Soon thereafter, he received the call: Rodeo was alive and working as a bomb-sniffing dog on Rikers Island, the New York City jail.
This week, Canine Working Heroes paid for Romero and his wife Sara Beth to travel to New York City to be reunited with Rodeo.
“Rodeo just came running up, and I gave him a big hug and knelt down, and was sitting there petting him – it was amazing,” Romero said.
“My heart was pounding. It was emotional for me. He means a lot to me, even though I had never met him before. He’s part of our family,” Sara Beth Romero added.
Romero said Rodeo will likely retire from working at the jail in about a year. When asked whether he would want to adopt Rodeo after his retirement, Romero said the search wasn’t necessarily about that.
“There’s always hope, but he has such a great home out there. I would really hate to take him away from that,” Romero said.
But now that he’s been reunited with his long-lost “battle buddy,” Romero has no plans to lose touch with Rodeo or his current handler. Romero is talking about returning to New York City when Rodeo retires – and trying to plan for Rodeo to visit Romero and his family in Sacramento.