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Sergeant Rex
The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and his Military Working Dog
Mike Dowling

Atria Books
Dec 13, 2011 / 978-1-4516-3596=6

Reviewed by Elise Cooper

A heart-warming book is Sergeant Rex by Mike Dowling with Damien Lewis. This is not a war story but the tale of a partnership between a German Shepherd military dog, Rex, and his handler, Mike. The book is about a friendship set during the Iraq War.

The plot shows how Rex and Mike developed complete trust in each other while facing dangerous situations. As a bomb detection/patrol dog, Rex, and his handler Mike went on missions with the reality of having to constantly face death while searching for IEDs. Deployed in 2004 Corporal Mike Dowling and Sergeant Rex were the first military working dog team sent to the frontlines since Vietnam. They both were able to stay focused on their mission that would save American soldiers lives. Rex's job was to sniff out booby traps, suicide bombers, and IEDs while Mike's job was to control Rex and keep him focused.

Dowling said that he wrote the book, "to make the public aware of military working dogs by detailing my own experiences. We were the only bomb detection team for the entire Marine battalion in Iraq. I thought that Rex is a very special and outstanding dog worthy of having his story told. I wrote this book to honor him."

What every dog lover will like about this book is how Mike talks for Rex. Most dog owners humanize their dogs by speaking their thoughts for them. For example in the book after Mike stumbled into an open drain, dragging Rex in with him, Dowling had Rex commenting, "Partner, you know what this smells like? No, I guess you don't-not with that nose." Mike noted about speaking for Rex, "I actually think Rex thought of himself as a Marine. I did it to try to show his personality, to show what he was thinking. I knew what he was thinking because we had such strong bond. He was an extension of me."

Even though the setting is in a combat zone, there is a lot of humor in the book. Dowling cites many instances when he and Rex are in the middle of a combat situation and Rex decides he is going to become an 'ordinary dog.' Mike stated, "Dogs are naturally funny. They do things that will make you laugh and smile. For example Rex decided to chase a rabbit when he was supposed to be searching for weapons and bombs. I wanted to show that as horrible as combat could be it is also humorous at times."

The book is also informative, allowing the reader to understand the qualities behind a handler and a military dog. The handler must be patient, strong-minded, a self-starter, somewhat of a loner, and someone who takes the initiative. A working military dog needs to have stamina, loyalty, athleticism, intelligence, and a drive to learn. Dowling tells how a handler must be a jack-of-all-trades: trainer, groomer, psychologist, and vet.

This is a heroic tale of a dog handler, who will do everything in his power to protect his dog, and Rex, a military dog, whose duty is to protect the Marine battalion in Iraq. Throughout the book, Dowling makes it crystal clear that "as long as I'm still breathing, no one is harming my dog." Sergeant Rex is an insightful book about the unbreakable human-canine bond that is a must read.

Reviewer's Note:
Reviewed 2012