Sergeant Tom Hansen is a man who has served his country in both Afghanistan and Iraq as part of an elite special forces unit. And there was one individual who went to extraordinary lengths to keep that unit safe. It just so happened, though, that that individual walked on four legs.
Because of the nature of the job, Hansen’s missions frequently dropped him into potentially lethal situations. Indeed, he was concussed several times when he was knocked to the ground by nearby explosions.
But there was one member of the team in particular who Hansen credits with keeping him in one piece. “It’s because of her I came back alive. I wouldn’t have asked for anybody else,” Hansen said in a 2016 interview with the Idaho Statesman.
Indeed, Hansen remains grateful to this day for the protection that he received. Yet Hansen’s sidekick wasn’t exactly a fellow soldier. No, Taylor – nicknamed “Tay-Tay” – was serving her country on four legs, not two.
You see, Tay-Tay was a specially trained military dog – and one with excellent bomb-sniffing skills. Her job was to protect the unit from Taliban booby traps. In fact, Tay-Tay was sent to Afghanistan not once but twice, and she more than proved her capabilities as a service dog.
Hansen was her primary handler, working with her to find explosives and other threats to the unit. On one occasion, for example, she saved Hansen from a bomb that was just inches from where he stood.
Even the Taliban noticed how effective the four-legged explosives expert was. Indeed, they reportedly took the threat so seriously that they actually had a bounty put out on Tay-Tay’s head.
But Tay-Tay and Hansen’s time together eventually came to an end when the sergeant left active duty. But while Taylor continued working on army missions, Hansen was told that he could take care of his four-legged friend when she was no longer needed.
However, it can be a difficult and expensive process for soldiers to get ownership of their old service dogs. That wasn’t going to stop these two from trying, though.
There is a third individual in the story, however, who would make all the difference: a United Airlines flight attendant named Molli Oliver. She’s someone with a huge amount of gratitude for the men and women who serve her country.
More specifically, she has made it her mission to reunite military dogs with the soldiers who cared for them. “I love the dogs and I love my military that’s taken care of my freedom my whole life, so it’s a win-win to combine the two,” she told KTVB News in 2016.
That’s right: Oliver takes it upon herself to bring military dogs back to the people who have the strongest bond with them in the whole world. On occasion, these soldiers even owe their lives to their loyal canine sidekicks, just as Hansen does to Tay-Tay.
Oliver pays for the whole process herself and travels with the dogs to officially hand them over. So what happened when Tay-Tay made the journey to Idaho to meet Hansen? As you might imagine, it was an emotional reunion.
But first Tay-Tay had to get there, and she actually flew first class. Meanwhile, Hansen waited anxiously at the airport, having missed Tay-Tay terribly. Incidentally, she would be the fourth dog that had been reunited with a soldier-handler thanks to Oliver.
When they saw each other, Hansen was overwhelmed; he dropped to his knees to welcome Tay-Tay into his arms. “It’s like a part of me has been missing and, you know, getting her back now, it will make me whole again,” Hansen said to KTVB.
“When they save your life that many times, they become part of your family,” Hansen told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s so hard to let them go. That’s the hardest part of being a dog handler.” But, thankfully, he now has her back forever.
But what about the other soldiers who have been separated from their dogs across the U.S.? Oliver certainly hasn’t forgotten about them either. Indeed, she plans on launching a non-profit organization, dedicated to reuniting other Tay-Tays and Hansens.
To that end, she has asked Hansen to contribute to the organization as a board member. He accepted, of course. There was no way he could forget what Oliver had done for him. “Molli is like family now to us,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “What she did for me and Taylor was amazing.”
Not only was it an amazing thing to do for another person, but it also saved Hansen and his fiancée a huge amount of money. And he is extremely grateful. “I couldn’t thank her enough for reuniting us,” he said.
Few working relationships can compare to the bond formed between Hansen and Tay-Tay. Although they were kept apart for longer than they would have liked, they can now enjoy plenty of new adventures together again.