When retired Army Spc. Josh Tucker first met his black Lab military working dog Ellen, he had no idea she would someday give him back his soul.
After a injury and short recovery period in Afghanistan in April, 2011, Tucker insisted that he and Ellen finish out the deployment with the rest of his team out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa. After all, if they didn't help locate the IEDs, who would?
But the demons of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wouldn't leave him alone. And not long after he redeployed, Tucker's condition was so alarming that his wife, Sherie Tucker, made an emergency call to her husband's commander.
Tucker spent three months at an in-patient recovery for PTSD at Fort Belvoir, Va. When he got out Ellen was gone.
"They told him 'don't worry, Ellen's waiting for you, just keeping doing what you're doing.' But the day before he was released from the hospital I got a phone call. They said, 'by the way, Ellen's gone, he'll never her again, you might want to tell your husband,'" Sherie Tucker said. "To have to sit there and look my husband in the eye and say 'I don't know how to tell you this, but she's gone,' It was like telling him that our child just died.
His eyes -- I will never forget -- his eyes, all the light in them, was just gone, just instantaneously gone."
When Tucker and Ellen first started working together, Sherie Tucker said she was jealous. How could he like a dog more than he liked his own wife?
"When we were first at Fort Lewis I was so jealous of her -- for a long time I referred to her exclusively as 'the home wrecker,'" she said.
"She is his other half and seeing her with him is like seeing -- it's amazing. I can't even put it into words," she said. "Ellen is his best friend, I believe that if he could leave me and marry her he would."
As her husband struggled Sherie Tucker knew she had to do something. She knew reuniting him with Ellen was the only way to give him hope, and she wasn't going to let the Army stand in the way.
The only problem was that Ellen was a service member of sorts, too. She had a job to do: protecting troops from bombs. But over time Sherie learned that Ellen wasn't deploying after all. There was no reason she couldn't be sitting beside Spc. Tucker helping him move forward.
So Sherie Tucker set to work. She made phone calls -- lots of phone calls. She set-up a "Bring SSD Ellen Home" Facebook page. She worked with her Congresswoman, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
And after years of searching and appealing to the Army for Ellen's retirement the couple finally got the phone call: Ellen was theirs for good.
"I sat up in bed and burst into tears. It's like no body died, somebody just came back to life," she said.
On March 29, just over a month after Tucker's medical retirement, Ellen came home. And the light, Sherie Tucker says, came back into her husband's eyes.
"It's been like watching someone come back from the dead. That spark that was completely gone from his eyes came back instantaneously the first time that Ellen jumped in his arms," Sherie Tucker said. "How do you thank someone for giving your husband back? Its been an amazing experience and we're so thankful that the Army change their minds."
In the few weeks since Ellen's return the Tuckers have trained her to help manage Tucker's PTSD symptoms as a service dog. Previous to her return the couple only went out at night to places where there were no crowds and only shopped in 24-hour stores. Now Ellen can sense when his heart rate increases and panic is about to set in and helps calm him down. He also trusts her to alert him if anyone is approaching from behind, so he is comfortable being in crowded places. On April 9 the couple and Ellen went to a store during the day for the first time in years, she said.
"I know it sounds so stupid but to be able to go to Bass Pro Shop at noon is giving me 12 hours of my day back. It's amazing the difference that Ellen has made, it's changed our lives," she said. "If you had spoken to me three weeks ago I would've just been blubbering into your lap that i was never going to get my husband back. I look at comatose people who have more life in them than Josh did.
I watched this dog bring my husband home. I owe our lives to a dog."