BOISE-- Thursday afternoon, a small crowd gathered around the meet and greet area at the Boise Airport. A little after 1 p.m., a United Airlines flight from Denver landed, carrying precious cargo.
U.S. Army Specialist Vance McFarland shifted back and forth, fiddling with a dog toy. He was waiting for the first glance of a special passenger: Ikar, a 5-year-old Czech Shepard.
"I hope he remembers me," McFarland said.
The two served together in Afghanistan in 2012.
"Sometimes were good, sometimes were stressful. Having Ikar definitely made it a lot better. Having a dog with you on deployment is almost like having a little bit of home. Other soldiers were jealous, they always wanted to come up and pet Ikar. We made the best of it," said McFarland.
Ikar is a Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD). McFarland described their deployment as, "We went to Afghanistan and found roadside bombs, IEDs."
When the pair arrived back home in Sept. 2012, they were separated. Ikar was sent to another handler.
"When we walked off the plane at Fort Bragg, I had Ikar for long enough for them to take a picture before they took him away from me and sent him back to go back through the TEDD program and back to Afghanistan," McFarland said. "It sucked. I mean we worked together for a long time. We were really close, then it was just like that, they took him away."
After his second tour, Ikar and ten other TEDD dogs were adopted by a private contract company and taken to Mt. Hope Kennels in Richmond, Va. Kristen Maurer, president of Mission K9 Rescue, said the dogs were abandoned there.
"The contract company had told the Army that they had a contract with these dogs to be repurposed and used again. They did not... they did not pay the kennel owner; they kind of gave him a bit of the run-around," said Maurer.
Maurer explained that the kennel's owner, Greg Meredith, expected to house the dogs for four to five weeks. Seventeen months later, the dogs still called Mt. Hope Kennels home. Meredith had spent $150,000 to care for the dogs and needed help. In July 2015, the dogs were turned over to the United States War Dogs Association of Burlington, N.J. and the Mission K9 Rescue of Houston, Texas. Maurer said the dogs were in excellent health.
Mission K9 Rescue and U.S. War Dogs Association workers took to social media. They posted pictures of the dogs, calling on service members to identify the dogs' handlers.
"I got Facebook stalked to be honest with you. I woke up one morning and had all kinds of messages on Facebook. People were like, 'Is this your dog? Were you a dog handler in the Army?' And I was like 'Yea! What's going on?' That's when I heard he had been abandoned and then saved and that I get the chance to adopt him now," said McFarland.
It was an easy decision for McFarland. Now a full-time student studying biology and natural resources, McFarland lives in Boise with his wife and two other dogs. He brought Ikar a toy and planned to buy him more on the way home.
It was the start to Ikar's well-deserved retirement. This weekend the McFarlands are taking the dogs to the lake.
"He is going to live the rest of his retired life spoiled. Really spoiled," said McFarland.
Mission K9 Rescue and the U.S. War Dogs Association worked to pair the other dogs from the kennel with their original handlers. All but two handlers stepped up, and reunions are taking place across the country. Ikar had a different handler on his second deployment to Afghanistan, but the first handler takes priority for adoption. Maurer said once the second handler is out of the military, they will fly him to Boise to visit Ikar.