Jun 11 2018

For retired Sgt. Ryan Henderson, 82nd Airborne, his former Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) Satan was more than a beautiful German shepherd with an intimidating name. To Sgt. Henderson, Satan was his brother-in-arms, a fellow soldier whom he literally trusted with his life on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

The story began in 2012, when Sgt. Henderson and Satan trained together in bomb detection techniques. On the night of training graduation, before shipping out to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Henderson had Satan’s profile tattooed on his arm as a lifetime reminder of his best friend.  The bond between these soldiers and the dogs is intense.  The Army spent millions of dollars on training TEDD dogs to mitigate casualties caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  Satan, like other TEDDs, had a 95% find rate at a 100-meter distance for detecting 37 explosive odors such as TNT and C-4.  Henderson and Satan completed more than a dozen combat missions together in Afghanistan, ferreting out IEDs and saving countless lives in the process. Most of the IEDs they found were on roads at tight turns or chokepoints. 

On July 24, 2012, while preparing to go out on a mission with Satan, Henderson suffered a traumatic brain seizure from his repeated exposures to explosions. He was medevacked out of Afghanistan and separated from Satan.  Satan struggled for weeks after Henderson left and did not want to come out of his kennel, even to eat. Henderson required long-term medical care and, in 2013, received an honorable discharge from the Army. He then devoted considerable time to tracking down and applying to adopt his former TEDD, as he was promised.

In 2014, with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the Army decided to discontinue the TEDD program and the dogs were returned to the United States. The TEDD handlers had been repeatedly promised that once they and the dogs completed their service, they would have the right to adopt their dogs.  At the time the TEDD program was terminated, it was the policy throughout all Department of Defense kennels to provide former TEDD handlers the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) when a TEDD dog was ready for adoption.  The families of handlers who had been killed in action were also to be provided ROFR. 

That’s not what happened.  Inexplicably, the Army did not follow its own policies.  While Henderson’s address and phone number had not changed since the time he enlisted, the Army did not contact him. Instead, Satan, and the other TEDD dogs ended up at large scale adoption fairs held at Fort Bragg.  Satan was adopted by a North Carolina family. When Sgt. Henderson located Satan, he contacted the family but efforts to resolve the dispute failed.  While grateful to the adoptive family for taking care of Satan, Sgt. Henderson wanted his best friend to come home, as the Army had repeatedly promised.

Concerned that justice delayed could become justice denied, Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Marilyn Forbes filed a complaint on Sgt. Henderson’s behalf in Richmond County, N.C. Superior Court seeking the return of Satan.  Satan turned seven years old in April 2017, and has been through quite a lot in his life.  After Forbes served several discovery requests, the parties resolved their disputes, clearing the way for Satan to rejoin Sgt. Henderson.  

On July 24, 2017, exactly five years to the day when Henderson was medevacked out of the explosion zone in Afghanistan, Satan and Henderson were reunited.   Henderson made the 20-hour drive from his home in Texas to North Carolina, where Forbes hand-delivered Satan to his friend for life.  Satan and Sgt. Henderson have begun a new chapter of their life together in Texas, and Henderson has just reported to Forbes that Satan remembers all his hand signals and Czech word commands.  

In addition to being an experienced litigator, Forbes also is an animal lover. She teaches Animal Law at Duke University School of Law and has served on the Board of Directors for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Wake County SPCA Board, Friends of Bonobos, and on the Board of Advisors for the Animals & Society Institute.

Forbes notes that Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys Ripley Rand and Kurt Weaver provided valuable input, while attorneys Patrick Spaugh and Jonathan Townsend contributed important research. Ashley Chase, one of Forbes’ former Duke Animal Law students who now practices law in New York City, also contributed to this effort.

Click here to watch a video on Henderson and Satan’s story from CBS 11 in Dallas-Fort Worth.