Marine veteran reunites with military dog after battling cancer
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Fredericksburg Marine Corps veteran reunites with his military dog after years of fighting overseas and stateside dealing with another battle - cancer.
Joseph (Joe) Fahrenbach served with military dog Fuli from December 2012 to January 2015, including a six-month deployment to Afghanistan 2014.
"Everything about him, his drive, his willingness to work… it just made going to work so much fun," Joe said.
Since their separation, things have changed. Fuli lost his eye from an infection, while Joe faced a fight of his own - not on the front line, but in the hospital battling leukemia since July 2017.
"It's been kind of a 180 lifestyle change for me going from very active to very sedentary," Joe said.
"This whole situation between his diagnosis and then being able to be reunited with Fuli... Be The Match and Mission K9 have truly been amazing," said Ashley Fahrenbach, Joe's wife.
Ashley said her husband is alive today because of a Be The Match donor.
"Thankfully a donor in Germany was a match for Fahrenbach, and [the Marine vet] underwent a stem cell transplant at VCU Massey Cancer Center in January 2018," said John Wallace, a spokesman for VCU Massey Cancer Center.
"Be The Match found us a donor and truly saved his life," Ashley said. "We were able to get a donor to give him an opportunity to continue to fight."
When Joe heard about Fuli's future retirement, scheduled for May 2018, he wanted to adopt him because of his memories with his four-legged partner.
"We decided that we were going to come up with what would be our dog's theme song, if our dogs were to have a theme song," Joe said. "We decided that the Indiana Jones would be Fuli's theme song."
"There's even a video of Fuli sitting majestically as the song played," Ashley added.
But the Fahrenbach's couldn't adopt Fuli right away because of Joe's health.
That's where Mission K9 Rescue stepped in. The non-profit is devoted to serving retired or retiring military and police dogs.
The group offered to adopt Fuli until Fahrenbach recovered enough. They then flew Fuli from Japan, to their headquarters in Houston, Texas and then eventually to Richmond Wednesday.
"I'm incredibly happy - he looks like he hasn't aged at all," Joe said. "He'll be a reason to get off the couch, take him for a walk, throw him in the back of the truck and hang out at the lake. It will just be a good time."
"We do this all the time, but this is very different," said Kristen Maurer, President of Mission K9 Rescue. "It's very emotional. Like I said, Joe's fighting another battle and he's got Fuli again."
"To be able to go home and give Fuli the couch life that he so greatly deserves... it's an honor that we're able to take care of him and be able to do this with him," Ashley said. "They need each other just the same."
The Fahrenbach's were temporarily living in Richmond for Joe's treatment, but will now return to Fredericksburg.
VCU Massey Center works with Be The Match in registering bone marrow donors. The registry includes more than 19 million volunteers who are ready to donate their bone marrow. The group also has more than 249,000 cord blood units listed on the registry.
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