Two tributes to RMWD Aura N679

This photo shows RMWD Aura before her health deteriorated. She is modeling with a FIFTY/FIFTY water bottle, etched with MWDTSA's logo.

RMWD Aura N679 was one of us—a MWDTSA volunteer. She and her humans represented MWDTSA at educational events, a movie premiere, and more. So, her death on February 7, 2020, touched us all. Below are two tributes: the first by her mom Jesca Daniels and the second by Kayla Miller of Negative Image Photography, LLC. RMWD Aura N679, thank you for your service to our nation and to MWDTSA. Rest easy.

From Jesca Daniels

We just said goodbye to Aura and our hearts are broken.

Most of you know that Mark was Aura’s first and only handler in the Marine Corps. She came into our life in 2010. Mark had been a handler for six years at the time, but she was his first Malinois. And boy was she everything a Malinois should be—smart, energetic, loyal, energetic, determined, energetic…did I mention energetic?

She gave him a run for his money, but in the end she made him a better handler. They were a beautiful team to see in action. I first fell in love with her love for him. Little did I know I would go on to fall in love with her love for the girls and me.

An IED blast creates a new family

In 2013, they deployed to Afghanistan. Three months in, I got the call that both of them and six other Marines had been injured in an IED blast. I didn’t know it then, but we gained seven family members that day. I am forever grateful that they all survived, and I love each and every one of them.

Mark rehabilitated and eventually went back to full duty. After months of rehabilitating MWD Aura in-country, she and Mark reunited. In that moment, I knew that one day she would be ours. She already was. A few months later, Aura tore her cruciate ligament and had to have surgery to correct it. After the first surgery, she would go on to tear the other and require more procedures. This ultimately lead to her retirement. It was final; she was coming home.

This photo shows RMWD Aura's military vest, which includes a Guardians of the Night patch.
RMWD Aura sports her tactical vest harness with “Retired Guardians of the Night” patch. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

On May 22, 2015, Aura came home to the girls and me while Mark was serving a year in Japan. I remember being so nervous about how she was going to do without him that I visited her at the kennels every week until it was time for her to come home.

I recall the exact moment she became my dog. I don’t say that to take away from the bond that she and Mark shared. I just mean that by the time she came home, I did not feel like I was taking care of his dog. She was part of the family. RMWD Aura put all of her heart into loving the girls and me, just as she had into loving and protecting her Dad. You guys know what happened next because you have loved us enough to follow her journey these past few years.

Beginning of the end

A little over a year ago, Aura started to not act like herself. It began with licking to a point she would lose control of her bladder, and being a bit off balance. As she progressed, she became unable to open her mouth very well to eat. RMWD Aura lost muscle tone all over her body and eventually was unable to get up or lay down without assistance. She would fall when she walked, and she genuinely seemed frightened of the world around her.

My spunky, energetic Velcro dog got to the point where instead of following me to every room, she would lift her head and sigh, but remain where she was. She lost interest in her KONG, which if you were lucky enough to have met her, you know was a big deal.

It got to the point where we were no longer looking for signs that it was time to let go, but rather we were trying to find a reason not to. After consulting several vets and specialists—and given her diagnoses—we knew that it was time to make the hard choice. RMWD Aura had MMM, DM, masses on her adrenal glands and spleen, and her quality of life was just not there.

The best last day

So, on February 7, 2020, we set out to give her the best last day ever. She had pizza, a donut, and Starbucks, her favorite things, and she got love from all of her people. As hard as it was, it was the best day she has had in a while. I think she knew we were going to let her be at peace.

With her family's help, RMWD Aura consumes one last Starbuck's Puppuccino.
RMWD Aura enjoys a final Starbuck’s Puppuccino. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

She had a bit of her twinkle back, and I think, I hope, she felt covered with love. In the end, we decided we would all be with her. The girls didn’t want to be in the waiting area. They wanted RMWD Aura to know that we were all there, so we were. We all told her how much she was loved, and we held her and loved her until the end. It was one of the hardest moments of all of our lives, but it is a moment I am glad we all shared. We all got that closure, and she had us all there.

This heart-wrenching image shows Mark Daniels giving RMWD Aura a final embrace.
Family members embrace RMWD Aura in her final hour. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

For the full album, showing RMWD Aura’s best last day, visit: https://www.facebook.com/AuraN679/

Gratitude

There are so many people we need to thank. First and foremost, Mission K9 Rescue. They provided vet care for Aura through all of this. And more than that, they have been a rock in our life as far as friendship and support. If it weren’t for them, we would not have had the time with her we did. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And Negative Image Photography, LLC, for capturing the final moments for us. I honestly didn’t think I wanted pictures, but now I am so grateful that we have them. We will absolutely cherish them forever. Thank you for making yourself available and for being a part of her last day. I know it couldn’t have been easy on you and I will never be able to thank you enough for the gift you gave us.

Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. and Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project: you guys have literally become our family. Our lives are better because you are in them. And to everyone who has loved us, followed us, cheered for us, and cried with us, we are truly grateful for your presence in our life.

And finally, Aura, thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for always loving me and the girls no matter what we went through. Thank you for healing parts of me I didn’t even know were broken. You were the best girl and I hope that we brought you half the joy you gave to us. I love you forever and I will count every star until I see you again… Goodbye Love.

*********************

From Kayla Miller

As a photographer, I’m often hired to capture some of the happiest moments in people’s lives. Weddings, births, families playing… you know, LOVE in its happiest form. I’ve never been hired to capture love in its saddest form, until today.

Meet Aura, a retired United States Marine MWD. Aura and her handler (daddy) Mark met in 2010. They instantly shared a bond that all the instructors said was incredible, one of the best teams to ever come through their training.

A bond that heals

In March 2013, they were stationed in Afghanistan together. One day on their way back from patrol, they were both injured in an IED blast. Mark and Aura were thrown from their seats. He sustained a TBI with bleeding and bruising on the brain, along with back and neck injuries. Aura sustained a collapsed lung and heart arrhythmia. She was very anxious and couldn’t sleep.

They took her to the hospital to see Mark before he was flown stateside for medical care. When she saw he was ok, she climbed in his bed and slept for the first time since the accident. Aura had to stay in Afghanistan for treatment until they could have someone fly her back.

Mark’s wife says that finally being able to see Aura again motivated him through his rehabilitation. After he recovered, Mark went on to receive The Purple Heart medal. In 2015, Aura retired and went to live out the rest, best days, of her life with Mark and his family. Most of that time was just with Mark’s wife and daughters as he was deployed again.

They joined in on the bond and loved Aura so deeply. She was loved to the fullest and catered to until the very end. She had the best, last day a US Marine could ever dream of.

Reflections on RMWD Aura N679

Thank you isn’t enough to express my gratitude for your service. RIP Aura N679—End of Watch 2/7/2020.

This has been by far the hardest project I have ever taken on. I can’t say I did it with a smile on my face the whole time because that’s not true. While I did greet Aura and her family with smiles and warm wishes, I am still human and have emotions. It took everything I had in me to stay strong and not break down with them. I wasn’t strong enough and did in fact quietly break down. I become invested in the people whose lives I capture, fully invested. No matter the form of love I capture, just know I feel it, too.

As civilians, we have no idea what our soldiers go through to protect our country, so we can go where we want, when we want…so we can post on Facebook, have the jobs we want and have the things we want. Our soldiers sometimes aren’t always people. They are animals. Willing, able and brave enough to go where man cannot.

God Bless ALL of our soldiers.

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