A heartbreaking photo of an airman hugging his beloved dog, who also worked in the military, as the dog is put down, has gone viral on social media.
The image shows U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Smith holding his beloved 11-year-old German shepherd, Bodza, who is wrapped in an American flag in honor of the service the dog did for the U.S. military, Inside Edition reports. Smith said he didn't know he would have to put down his companion until earlier that afternoon.
Smith first met Bodza when the two were paired for an assignment in Kyrgyzstan in 2012, and after the dog was retired from service in 2014, Smith adopted Bodza as a pet. The airman said he quickly developed a bond with the German shepherd, who he said loved long car rides and chasing his own shadow.
"He was one of those gentle giants," said Smith of his companion. "He was trained to bite, but I swear he only did it to make people happy. He had no interest in the world of hurting anyone."
"My favorite thing about him was he didn’t care what you were doing, he just wanted to be there doing it with you," he said. "Pretty much my whole career with him was walking around something, or walking to somewhere."
Smith said his boss knew how close he was with Bodza, and surprised him by allowing him to adopt his canine co-worker the same day the dog was retired.
"My boss said, 'Hey, go check your Jeep,'" said Smith. "They went out and put a bowl, a brand new leash and two collars, and they put [Bodza] at the back of my Jeep. I got to take him home the same day he retired."
Smith, who later began training military working dogs in El Paso, Texas, said that as Bodza got older, he began to notice the dog's difficulty in getting around. He needed to lift him into the car, where before Bodza would hop in on his own. The dog also reportedly had trouble keeping his balance on smooth surfaces like tile.
When Smith took Bodza to the vet, he was told his pet had degenerative myelopathy, a disease that affected the dog's spinal cord, and has no cure. Smith made the painful decision to end Bodza's suffering.
Before Bodza was euthanized, Smith said he gave him a final meal at McDonald's. "He got a big Mac," said Smith, who added that he ate every crumb, according to WSOC.
He said that in the final few minutes he had with his dog, he told him that he would miss him.
"I just kept holding him, rubbing and kissing his head, telling him, 'I'm going to miss you,'" said the airman.
Smith's superiors reportedly heard about Bodza's passing, and Smith said it was his boss' idea to drape the American flag over Bodza's body. "My boss immediately said, 'Where’s your American flag? You should have one in your building. Find it for me now.'"
The resulting photo has garnered attention online, as social media users shared Bodza's story of friendship and military service.
"I got married with this dog, I got divorced with this dog," said Smith, recalling his time with Bodza. "I have a son on the way, and the most heartbreaking part is I really wish he was younger, so my son would be able to play with him. He was the nicest dog in the world."