‘I thought my dog was gone’: Purple Heart recipient finds service dog thanks to community

Mike Day and his service dog, Herja. Date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Mike Day, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Mike Day, a retired Navy Seal and recipient of the Navy Cross and Purple Heart, was visiting St. George on his way from Salt Lake City to San Diego, California, when his service dog, Herja, went missing.

Day and his girlfriend, Kristy Holmes, were on a road trip at the time that originated in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and took Day to Salt Lake City to compete in an adaptive archery challenge, one in which 25 other wounded veterans competed. After completing the competition, Day headed south toward San Diego.

Day received the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart after being shot 27 times and knocked unconscious by a grenade explosion during a gun fight in Afghanistan. Day killed all of the four al-Qaida operatives in the gunfight and then walked to the helicopter to be medically evacuated.

His experiences framed his recently released memoir “Perfectly Wounded,” and Day was heading to San Diego to be a guest on a podcast to help promote the book.

After leaving Salt Lake City, Day and Holmes decided to take a pit stop in St. George to explore some of the surrounding areas. Day’s service dog went missing from the hotel where they were staying after some fireworks were detonated in the area. Day had received Herja through a donation from the Navy Seals Museum, which donates service animals to veterans. She is trained to be a service animal as well as a multipurpose canine.

After posting about his missing pet on the St. George News Facebook page, Day said the resulting flurry of activity that brought the owner and dog back together showed the couple how the community of St. George could come together to help someone in need. The Facebook post received over 600 shares and almost 200 comments.

“It is a complete miracle that this dog is back,” Day said. “People were contacting us, chasing the dog around and calling us. We had people that set live traps for us. We had a woman that offered to bring out her German shepherd tracking dogs.”

Mike Day and his service dog, Herja. Date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Mike Day, St. George News

Day said people were running through muddy fields to try and help find Herja, while others were offering to help out in other ways.

One couple had spotted Herja on their bike route and contacted Day. They then walked Day and Holmes to the trail where they spotted her in an effort to help find the dog.

Holmes said they were “in shock” at how the community was so helpful and that if it weren’t for all of the activity on the post, “we would never have found her.”

“We literally found her about 20 minutes before sunset,” she said. “If we would have lost her again that night, who knows?”

Herja was eventually tracked down at Riverside Elementary where she had been cornered by some members of the community after running into the fenced area of the school.

“In Virginia, we would have never had this turnout,” Holmes said, again expressing her gratitude for the help from a community where they had never even visited before this trip. “To be so friendly, open and helpful. We’ve talked about it nonstop every hour how much we love this town.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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