For the grieving mother of a Marine who died in Afghanistan, a special dog provides a unique link to her son.

“I know that Colton passed his love on to this dog, and that's why he's so loving,” said Kathy Rusk at a ceremony honoring the bond between Eli, a bomb-sniffing black Labrador Retriever, and Pfc. Colton Rusk.

At the ceremony, Eli mustered out of the military, just months after his human partner, Pfc. Rusk, 20, of Texas, died in a firefight in Afghanistan. Pfc. Rusk’s family members adopted Eli.

During their time together, Pfc. Rusk and Eli are credited with saving the lives of other troops by uncovering bombs, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

The New York Times has reported the Marine Corps is increasingly relying on dogs on the battlefield. In 2007, just nine bomb-sniffing dogs worked with Marines in Afghanistan. That number is expected to reach nearly 650 by the end of the year.

U.S. Air Force spokesman Gerry Proctor said the trend reflects dogs’ effectiveness in reducing the threat posed by bombs.

“There is no technology that can replace a dog for its sense of smell. Mechanical means are only about 50% effective, and the dogs have to certify at 95% effective,” Mr. Proctor said during a Washington Post live chat earlier this month.

Mr. Proctor, who is stationed at the base in Texas where the dogs are trained, said soldiers often develop a deep bond with their animal partners.

“It depends on the individual,” Mr. Proctor said. “But I have never known a handler that said they didn’t have a close significant bond with their dog. These people aren't put into this program, they ask to be part of it.”

To see a photo essay of war dogs in action, visit ‘War Dogs,’ from Foreign Policy magazine.

Send us your patriotic photos of your pet and tell us your story about ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. Watch our blog for a July 4 tribute!

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As we’re dedicated to making a difference for pets, we want to keep you informed about pet health topics and your ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Our blog will provide you with fresh, interesting and informative topics—from pet health tips and customer stories, to the latest industry news and a Pet Parent Q&A column. Most of all, we encourage you to share comments and join the discussion!

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Julia H.

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Lucy, an 8-year-old rescued Golden Retriever/Chow Chow mix

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