A military funeral usually includes an honor guard, the folding of a United States flag, and the playing of "Taps" by a bugler. It's a ceremony meant to honor those who have served in the U.S. military and memorialize their actions.
That’s why John Mras, a former Army Staff Sgt., called on Idaho’s National Guard and local American Legion veterans to help honor Taran, his retired military working dog who passed away from cancer on Oct. 22.
"Military working dogs put in as much sacrifice, time and effort as other service members do, and we just really felt that Taran deserves the same honors and respect that any service member does," Mras said at a ceremony Wednesday evening at Boise's Veterans Memorial Park.
Mras, 32, first met Taran, a German Shepherd/Belgion Malinois mix, in 2007 during training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
“He was a problem dog,” Mras said, and trainers had little confidence that Taran would succeed in the program when they assigned him to partner with Mras.
"It turns out by the end of it, he turned around and ended up being the best one. He went from the problem child to graduating with me," Mras said.
The pair worked together perfectly. For years they served at Fort Knox in Kentucky, conducting security screens of the post and even assisting the Secret Service with security when President Barack Obama visited Louisville, Mras said.
Then they went to Iraq.
"Our specialty was to be searching for (improvised explosive devices) in roadways," Mras said. "That was our bread and butter -- looking for IEDs in front of convoys."
Their already-close bond tightened as they patrolled the desert for explosives, serving out a year-long deployment in Iraq.
Then, after years as a team, Mras’ service took him elsewhere: to Special Forces training. Taran was sent back to Lackland where military handlers tried fruitlessly to get him to bond to another K-9 handler the way he’d bonded with Mras. After three failed attempts with new partners, Taran was put into retirement.
That’s when Mras took advantage of "Robby's Law," which allowed handlers to adopt retired working dogs rather than the alternative -- euthanasia. As Taran’s last official handler, he had first dibs on adopting the dog, and he wasted no time in doing so. When the process was finalized, he headed back to Lackland to retrieve his canine companion.
"At that time he was probably 90 pounds, and he saw me and started prancing and piddled a little bit," Mras recalled.
Though they were no longer working together in the same way, Mras said their relationship changed little.
“I had spent so much time with him already that it wasn't a big shift. When we were in Iraq, he slept in the same bed with me every night, so it was like nothing changed. He was always part of the family."
In 2016, after being medically discharged from the Army, Mras, his wife and two daughters moved to Boise, where he attends Boise State University and studies health science. This fall, Taran was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on his back paw.
It wasn’t a new problem for Taran, Mras said — he had similar lumps removed when the pair were stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. But for such a large dog at 10 years old, the removal of his back leg would have been too much for Taran, Mras said. Within a month of his diagnosis, the dog passed away.
"When working dogs die in service, there's a full funeral. When dogs retire, it's just completely up to the handler," Mras said. "The reaction of some people is like, 'It's just a dog.' But he's not just a dog. He's a service member."