The emotional viral photo of a Navy SEAL saying goodbye to a former K9 unit features Mike Ritland and a dog named Carlos.
Mike Ritland knew he wanted to be a Navy SEAL right after he graduated high school. And he accomplished that goal, serving with the force for 12 years.
Carlos, formerly named “Digo,” was described as “a highly trained combat dog [that] saved the Marines’ lives during a dangerous operation.”
When Ritland left the military in 2008, he started a company called Trikos International that eventually contracted with the training group for the West Coast SEAL Canine Program. Trikos is now a dog training and procurement company that provides working K9 units to “a multitude of clients to include celebrities, private individuals, and government agencies.”
Two years later, Ritland found out that former working dogs were commonly euthanized after displaying aggressive behavior they had learned on the job or in cases when they could not reacclimate to civilian life.
That led him to found the Warrior Dog Foundation to help them. One of the first dogs accepted was Carlos, who he wanted to give a dignified retirement.
While in Iraq, Carlos and his handler were the victims of an IED that severely injured them both. They were medevaced out of the area and even though he suffered from collapsed lungs and broken legs, he eventually healed enough to go back to work (the handler recovered as well).
Carlos retired at age 7 and passed away at the age of 15 in October of 2020.
A hero’s goodbye
Ritland’s Facebook and Instagram accounts showed Carlos’ final moments.
Their social media manager captioned the photo:
“Mike had to say goodbye to Carlos today, after 15 amazing years of blessing this earth with his presence. I feel very honored to have had the pleasure of working that beast, as he was a K9 that was at the program when I was there as a trainer. He was one hell of a dog. “
The writer also explained the significance of the specific flag that is shown in the photo:
“He is draped in the flag that Mike carried with him on every operation with him, and still possessed Afghan dust as he unfolded it on him.”
Carlos’ final meal was a big plate of steak, as he so well deserved.
Coping with loss
In an Instagram post a few days later, Ritland himself wrote a tribute to Carlos and a friend he lost not long before the dog died. He said people often ask him how he deals with loss:
“I think about how if the roles were reversed, I know I would want my loved ones to maximize the gift of life that they continue to receive and not squander it by feeling pity and sadness from the loss. Appreciate what you have while you have it, and love the life that the ones we’ve lost would be proud of. That’s how you honor them. Get out and maximize the time we have, that’s what they would want.”
The photo of Mike lying with Carlos went viral, earning tens of thousands of likes across social media. And it’s easy to see why.
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