He’s a hero on four paws.
When working dog Jet Li needed a retirement home after serving the Navy and then the Indianapolis Police Department, Project K-9 Hero found him one — with the family of his fallen namesake. Although the Dutch Shepherd was known as “Knikker” during his two tours in Iraq, he was dubbed Jet Li when he started his second career with the Indy PD, in honor of the late John “Jet Li” Douangdara, lead dog handler for the Elite Seal Team Six.
“My first thought was to call his family immediately and give them an opportunity to adopt the dog,” explains Jason Johnson, the CEO and founder of Project K-9 Hero.
Johnson’s organization exists to give retired military and police dogs like Jet Li the care and financial support they deserve when their careers end.
“We protect those heroes who protected us,” he says. “Unfortunately, in the police world and in the military world, when these dogs retire they lose their funding.”
Project K-9 Hero steps in to ease the financial burden a retired dog’s care and medical expenses placed on adopters (who are often the dog’s former handlers).
Usually, the dogs Johnson helps are either former Military Working Dogs (MWDs), or police K9s. Jet Li’s experience as both is as unique as it is impressive, says Johnson.
During his two tours as a Naval Special Warfare MWD, Jet Li aided in apprehending targets and with countless narcotics finds. After retiring from the military at five years old, he went on to help with more than 100 criminal apprehensions as an Indy PD K9 before retiring for good at 10 years old.
Even with his amazing record as an American hero, Jet Li had no home to go to when his age finally caught up to him. That’s when Johnson got the call from a fellow trainer, and learned the details of how and why Jet Li got his second career and second name.
It turns out that while John Douangdara didn’t directly handle Knikker during the dog’s military career, some of his friends did, and the two Jet Lis definitely knew each other. The police officers the dog would eventually work with knew Douangdara too, as he trained Indianapolis police K9 handlers before he was killed in the line of duty. That’s why the police officers renamed their Naval canine recruit.
“It was out of respect for Johnny — his call sign was Jet Li when he was on the field teams as a handler.” explains Johnson, who has known Douangdara’s family for years, having worked with the hero’s older siblings to preserve his legacy.
Johnny — as Johnson calls him — has been memorialized in university text books, and a statue of the K9 handler and his MWD, Bart (who died along with Douangdara and 37 other people when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in August 2011) stands at the John Douangdara Memorial War Dog Park in Sioux City, Nebraska.
For Douangdara’s older brother, Pan, adopting the dog named after his late sibling has been another way to honor his memory.
“It’s crazy, the story and how it all kind of went full circle,” he says. “A dog that kind of passed by my brother, in his unit and where he worked — and I know that he graced the presence of my brother — wound up back with me.”
The elder Douangdara had actually tried to adopt another retiring MWD before hearing about Jet Li, but that fell through when the canine hero was placed in another home. Pan remembers getting the call from Johnson and feeling ecstatic to not only be getting a dog, but also a renewed connection to Johnny.
“I was super excited,” he explains. “Knowing what these dogs do and what they sacrifice for us, I feel like it’s something we all should do: Give back to them after they retire.”
Jet Li’s new human describes his senior dog as an energetic bundle of joy who makes every day feel different.
“There’s probably the assumption that these dogs are nothing but business and that they’re only trained to [work], but all he wants to do is play with his ball,” he says.
“He’s awesome, he’s fun.”
It’s clear Jet Li found the perfect home thanks to Project K-9 Hero, and Johnson says the organization will continue to do everything it can for retiring dogs.
“We make sure the heroes like Jet Li do not go without, and we are committed to taking care of them for life,” Johnson vows.
Tell us what you think of Jet Li’s story in the comments below!
Images via Project K-9 Hero/Facebook
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