For U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, Layka, the 4-year-old Belgian Malinois with a missing paw, isn’t just a canine companion. She’s a hero.
McDonald, 29, said Layka saved his life on an overseas deployment in Afghanistan in 2012.
McDonald was on his eighth overseas tour and completing a routine mission with his teammate and Layka, a trained military dog.
“We got there to kind of assess the situation a little bit more. That's when the guy ... started to shoot,” McDonald recalled to ABC News.
Layka was hit.
“He shot her, about four to six controlled rounds at her,” McDonald said, calling it “a dire situation.”
Despite her wounds, Layka continued the mission with her team, and was rushed into treatment when she made it back to safety.
After multiple surgeries, doctors had to amputate the dog’s right paw.
McDonald, of Columbus, Georgia, said the dog saved lives.
“I realized I had a responsibility to take care of her, just as she took care of me," he said. "She saved our lives and I owed it to her to obviously save hers.”
McDonald adopted Layka and took her home to his family, where she fit right in and befriended his young son.
“I unhooked her and, from there on out, her and Liam were the best of friends. It was super cool to see,” he said.
Although their active military days are over, McDonald continues to train Layka and keep her fit. It’s a form of therapy that man and dog both enjoy.
“Just seeing that she could just transition so easy into the civilian world -- and I told myself, 'If she can do it, I can do it,'” he said. “And she is kind of my rock.”
McDonald’s mother, Lisa Sparrow, said Layka definitely saved lives that night.
“You just can't put words to it except it was divine intervention," she said. "That's how I feel about it, it was divine intervention.”
McDonald said he is grateful to his dog. Because of her courage, he’s able to come home every day.
“You can look at her eyes and there is just so much fire there,” he said. “She is definitely a superhero, she definitely saved my life that night.”