For the past eight years, Matthew Bessler and his best friend, Mike, worked, lived and played together.
The 20-year Army vet, who served six tours in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group, first met Mike — a bomb-sniffing Belgian Malinois — in 2007 when the then puppy became part of a program to prepare dogs and their handlers for combat, The Washington Post reports. The two went on to work together, helping to save the lives of those deployed and eventually, both retired to Powell, a city in northern Wyoming.
However, according to the Post, the unique bond the two shared was severed earlier this month when a bicyclist riding near Bessler’s property shot and killed Mike. Now, not only is the grieving owner working to ensure Mike has a proper military funeral and burial, but he also has questions about why and how the incident really took place.
“I would like to take a civil avenue to go after him — the gentleman that shot him — because Mike was a retired military officer,” Bessler told the Billings Gazette. “I mean, it’s not just a wrongful use of force.”
Reportedly, nobody witnessed the Oct. 10 shooting, which took place while Bessler was out of town hunting. According to the town’s paper, the Park County Sheriff’s Office believes the 59-year-old man’s actions were justified because he felt threatened. But Bessler questions the finding as the entry wounds were in the dog’s backside and Mike was not known to be a danger to anyone.
According to police reports, the man who killed the dog felt threatened by Mike, who reportedly was accompanied by a Yorkshire Terrier, a 10-week-old Pit Bull and a 2-year old Pit Bull-Lab Mix.
Mike, who turned 9 in May, and Bessler did two tours in Iraq together that left both with post-traumatic stress disorder. They reportedly were a comfort to one another in their post-military lives.
“I raised him and trained him as a puppy, and the ability he has to sense some of the issues that I have with seizures, with my PTSD, my TBI (traumatic brain injury) and severe anxiety disorders, how he can calm me down just by him being in my presence,” Bessler told the Gazette. “He can help take the focus and help change the focus of what’s going on with me and help me calm down or relax me.”
A friend of Bessler’s has set up a GoFundMe account. The funds raised will go toward “funeral services, necropsy (animal autopsy), an other support and any other costs that Matt may have in association with the shooting incident and the funeral for Major Mike (military honors, etc.)” according to the fundraising page. “Any and all left over (sic) funds will be donated to an organization for war veterans that Matt works with and will be of his choosing.”
The campaign, launched five days ago, has already reached its goal and is still growing.
“He was very laid back,” Bessler told the Gazette, remembering his lost family member. “ … he would lean up against people, he liked being petted, he played ball. He was happy. He was a happy-go-lucky dog.”