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Former Army soldier from Culver works to reunite with his bomb detection dog

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A former soldier is trying to get his military dog back.

He served in Afghanistan with his bomb-sniffing dog, Tess. He had to say goodbye five years ago when they got back from Afghanistan. Now he is on a mission to find her and bring her home.

Joseph Steenbeke's life is a lot different now. He lives with his wife, Stephanie, and their dog and cat. They live along the Yellow River in Culver.

Just five years ago he was overseas.

“I was a TEDD handler. It is a Tactical Explosive Detection Dog handler,” said Steenbeke.

Steenbeke and his dog Tess would search for bombs to protect his company.

Now, he is searching for her and trying to connect his past with his present.

“I’d love for her to bed back here in Indiana,” said Steenbeke.

Steenbeke's connection with Tess started in 2012, the moment they met.

“I was like what is her deal? What is her name? They were like 'That is Tess. She is a sassy one.' I was like ‘Well that just might work.’ So we opened the kennel and she came running out and jumped up and I caught her and I was like ‘This will work,’” said Steenbeke.

The two deployed in 2013. Their bond was strong.

“With bullets flying, mortars, rockets, bombs, everything else. At the end of the day I had her and she had me and that was it,” said Steenbeke.

Steenbeke has her ID number tattooed on his arm. For nearly a year the two spent every minute together. They had good times and bad.

“The other K9 handler actually got blown up by an IED,” said Steenbeke. “You go long enough without finding any, you think you’re just going on a walk. Then all the sudden your buddy gets blown up and it certainly makes it real. That is for sure.”

After his tour in Afghanistan, when his time in the Army was over, those memories came back with him but Tess could not.

“So the plane lands by our base and somebody comes walking on and told us that we had five minutes to say goodbye to our dogs,” said Steenbeke.

“It is kind of hard to put it into words. You can imagine a group of 20 to 25 men done with war, excited to go home, and they just get told their best friend is gone in five minutes. That is all they get,” said Steenbeke, “I just remember, walking around thinking it wasn’t real. Just loving up on her as best I could for five minutes handing the leash off. That was the last time I saw her.”

It has been five years now.

“It feels like I am not whole because I don’t have her around to lean on. She doesn’t have me to lean on. It makes it hard when bad memories come back,” said Steenbeke.

Steenbeke is back in Culver.

Tess is still sniffing out bombs. Steenbeke said she is working for the Connecticut National Guard. She is 9-years-old now, an advanced age for a military working dog.

“Above all else I would love to get Tess back and have her be part of our family again,” said Steenbeke.

He and Stephanie have doubled down on their efforts. They've created a Facebook page. The couple has reached out to Representative Jackie Walorski and Senator Joe Donnelly and are getting support.

“Now it is just a waiting game to see if me or another handler wants her. We are just trying to be loud enough and get enough people to hear us, that when it does come time for her to be retired we can get her,” said Steenbeke.

Nothing is certain. There are no guarantees the two will be reunited. Steenbeke is not giving up.

“I’d just love to have her back in my life again,” Steenbeke said.

Learn more and offer support here.

There's more on other TEDD handlers like Steenbeke here.

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