One reunion down, hundreds more to go.
On Saturday, Army veteran Julio Muñoz finally found the dog he has been missing for three years — Ben, the canine that fought alongside him in Afghanistan.
Muñoz, 32, of The Bronx, was supposed to have been given the chance to adopt the dog after deployment. But as The Post revealed, at least two Pentagon employees, along with contractor K2 Solutions, have been secretly dumping military dogs out to civilians instead of offering them to their handlers.
Kim Scarborough, 52, was one of those civilians. She found Muñoz’s name on Ben’s deployment papers. She had told The Post after reaching out to the soldier, “If the handler wants Ben, it belongs to him. Period, the end.”
Though Muñoz missed Ben fiercely, the ex-soldier said if the dog was happy in his new home, he’d let him be. “I wouldn’t want to ruin that for him” Muñoz said. “He’s already been through so much.”
Scarborough and Muñoz agreed to meet, and the anxiety was palpable. Muñoz was afraid Ben wouldn’t remember him; Scarborough feared Ben would abandon her.
Bounding out of Scarborough’s car toward Muñoz, Ben was overwhelmed, running back and forth between the two. Soon, he settled, and took to Muñoz’s daughter, Mia, 5, and 9-month-old son, Ethan.
It quickly became clear Muñoz was Ben’s master.
“Loose!” he would say, and Ben would drop what was in his mouth.
“Oh, so that’s how you get him to do that,” Scarborough said.
Questions followed: Why did Ben respond to German? He had been trained in Germany. Why are tennis balls his favorite toy? Muñoz trained him with tennis balls, using them as rewards. Why was
Ben so good with kids? He was a fighter, Muñoz explained, but always sweet, comforting soldiers when they were stressed out.
As the two talked, Muñoz’s wife, Sully, looked on from a distance. She didn’t know whether her husband could bring himself to take the dog, even though he so badly wanted to.
“He called me from Afghanistan once and said, ‘Are you praying for me?’ ” she recalled. “I told him, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Ben found an IED. It didn’t go off.’ That had happened before, but this was different.”
A tear rolled down her cheek.
“I don’t like to talk too much about what happened overseas,” Munoz said. “But we made contact with some bad guys, and I had to tie Ben back for his own safety. I went back to the hole to
start shooting, and Ben chewed through his leash and laid right down next to me.”
After a little over an hour, Ben was in thrall to Muñoz’s family, chasing a tennis ball tossed by Mia and nestling it under Ethan’s arm.
“Julio,” Scarborough said softly, “why don’t you take the dog home?”
Muñoz paused, staring at Ben.
“He’s happy with you,” he said, trying to contain his emotions. “I don’t want to take that away from him.”
“I didn’t go to war with him,” Scarborough said. “It’s different.”
“That’s all right,” Muñoz said. “We have some good memories. He’s a fighter. He never gives up.”
Scarborough was silent for a few moments, but said, “I think he needs to take Ben home,” and walked to her car to gather Ben’s things.
“Julio,” his wife said, “you want to take the dog home?”
By now, Muñoz’s face was flushed, his eyes teary.
“He’s done so much, been through so many things. I don’t want to take him home,” he said.
He looked at Ben, who looked right back.
“Come on,” Muñoz told him. “I’ll take you home.”
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