“As a dog and a companion, he was probably one of the most loyal animals to anyone he came across,” Bessler said of Mike in a Wednesday interview. “If he knew you and you were in my house, he was by your side, leaning up against you.”
Bessler hopes Mike can have a burial with military honors.
“Mike was a retired major in the Army that saved a number of lives because of his work in bomb detection and everything he had done,” Bessler said.
Mike served alongside Bessler in Iraq in the U.S. Army, and both came home with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mike then became a service dog for Bessler. That transition — from a combat dog to a service dog — made the canine especially unique and led to a profile in the Washington Post in July.
“As far as we know, this is the first and only case that they have,” Bessler told the Tribune in July.
An online fundraising campaign to help pay for Mike’s funeral costs was launched on Tuesday by Jess Campbell.
“We are a community coming together to mourn the loss of a brave military service dog, who deserves the honor to be laid to rest with a military funeral and burial,” the page reads. “Major Mike is a former military combat dog that had served two tours of duty in Iraq. Please help us fund a funeral that will do this military war veteran the respect he deserves.”
Extra donations will go toward a program that honors and supports war veterans, Campbell said.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/ew6cjw7k.
The 59-year-old Powell man who shot Mike has not been cited for any wrongdoing.
“Essentially, if you feel your life is in danger or threatened by an animal, you can act against it,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said Wednesday. Steward said that, according to the man’s statements and his actions, he felt threatened.
The man was not injured in the incident.
According to the account the bicyclist gave to the Sheriff’s Office, he was turning north onto Road 5 from Lane 9 when he was “attacked” by a “German shepherd-looking dog.”
The Powell man got off of his bike and began using it as a shield, circling back and forth and keeping the bike between him and the dog, he told the Sheriff’s Office. Eventually, he was able to grab a revolver from his bicycle-mounted holster, and he shot the dog. The dog ran away and the man called 911, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“(The man) said he was genuinely in fear of his life and well-being, and the dog was ‘definitely in full attack mode and not backing down at all,’” Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess summarized of the report later compiled by a deputy.
When he shot the animal, it was about 5-10 feet away, the man said. He had not thought the single round of bird shot had killed the dog, Mathess said of the man’s account.
No other people witnessed the incident, though a neighbor heard the shot and came outside to see the dog limping away.
Bessler had been hunting in the Big Horn Mountains at the time. The friend who was caring for Mike told the Sheriff’s Office they had no idea how the dog had escaped from Bessler’s residence, Mathess said.
Bessler questions many parts of the bicyclist’s account.
“He has his story,” Bessler said. “I know my dog. I have my story.”
The man told the Sheriff’s Office, and the dog’s wounds show, that he shot the dog in the rear.
“In my mind, it’s inconsistent with a dog that’s attacking somebody,” Bessler said, saying that two pellet marks went directly toward Mike’s heart.
Bessler described Mike as a nice dog who was gentle with children, enjoyed being petted and always wanted to play ball.
“He would never attack someone,” he said. “The only time he ever protected property was when somebody stepped on to my property and looked into the back of my truck.”
Bessler added that Mike effectively had no teeth from years of chewing rocks out of anxiety.
Bessler said Mike “never gets out on the road” and would only briefly run alongside people passing by.
“I believe the gentleman just shot the dog on my property,” Bessler said, adding, “I don’t buy his story.”
The man said the encounter took place in the road, and Steward said that’s consistent with what the neighbor told the deputy.
“She comes out, and laying in the intersection was this guy’s bike and him standing there,” Steward said.
The man initially reported he’d been attacked by a “pack of dogs,” but he later admitted that — while several other dogs came near him — only Mike threatened him, Mathess said.
Bessler said the three other dogs with Mike when the incident occurred were smaller than Mike, including a puppy, and that none of them are aggressive.
“If it went down the way the guy said it did, then so be it,” Bessler said. “But I’m disgusted with the fact that the guy hasn’t even shown his face to say, ‘I’m sorry this happened.’”
Steward said the Sheriff’s Office plans to follow up on a few inconsistencies, such as whether bird or buck shot was used, but he said “everything’s pretty consistent with what the victim’s telling us.”
Bessler said his next step will be having an autopsy performed and “memorializing, remembering Mike and taking care of services.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m still so flabbergasted over the whole thing of why a person would be carrying the types of things he (the bicyclist) was carrying.”
Steward doesn’t think it’s that unusual for someone to be carrying a weapon.
“A lot of people, when they walk or ride bikes around here, they’ve got pepper spray, a gun or a stick,” he said. “And that’s because dogs come out and chase bikes (and) people.”
The sheriff called it “tragic all the way around.”