Michiana veteran seeks help to reunite with his soldier dog

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CULVER, Ind. (WNDU)- SPC Joe Steenbeke worked side-by-side for a year and a half with his soldier dog, Tess. Now he and his wife Steph are working tirelessly to reunite with her and hopefully one day, adopt her.

In March of 2012 Joe went to train to be a Technical Explosive Detection Dog, TEDD, Handler and went to K-9 training in Denver, Ind. where he met Tess and they trained together. After months of intense training they were approved combat ready.

"You truly never know which car you're going up to search could have a bomb on it, which could have a bad guy in it that's going to try and shoot you and your dog," Joe said. "You truly just have to go off of your training and your practice and things that you worked on and you have to 110 percent trust that bond that you have with your dog."

Joe was one of the first to go through the TEDD Handler program. He said a lot of times he was only with Tess for days at a time.

"You never know what moment's going to be your last," he said. "You have to focus on just you and her and that's it."

He developed a bond so tight with Tess to the point that he knew the multiple different ways her tail would wag and whether it meant she smelled a bomb or saw a friendly face.

"I don't think I truly realized how big of a piece I was missing in my life until my wife who has never met Tess is literally pouring hours into every single day into the effort of getting her back," Joe said.

Although they've been trying for years to get Tess back, Steph has really put all of her effort into it now after they saw a documentary on how healing it can be for a soldier to be back with his partner.

"I knew I needed to do everything I could to make it happen," Steph said. "To know that missing piece gets to come home would just mean everything to us and it would all just be worth it."

They've put in the calls frequently to check in on Tess, but can't learn much more other than she's alive and still fighting.

"We've gotten all the updates we can," Joe said. "We have all the information we need. Now we'er just in the waiting process until she actually gets retired."

And now waiting is the hardest part, especially after how he said goodbye to her.

"Somebody literally walked up on the plane and told us that we have five minutes to say goodbye to the dogs," Joe said. "It's hard to say goodbye to somebody that's that close to you especially when you only get five minutes to do it."

Joe said that's the hardest part about all of it. He wasn't given any warning that it would be the last time he would see her.

Both Joe and Steph understand they can't know about Tess' whereabouts because she's still in active duty, but they really would like to adopt her when she retires. They hope by spreading this story that they can be reunited and let others know how long and difficult of a process it can be to get a soldier dog back.

They ask that you like their Facebook page and share their story to get the word out. You can do so by following this link: https://www.facebook.com/reunitejoeandtess/.

To learn more about getting justice for TEDD Handlers you can go to their website: https://justice4tedds.com/ and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/justice4TEDDs/.

Joe and Steph also ask you to contact your congressional representatives to show your support to help people like Joe get reunited with their dogs.