A Dog At the State of the Union Address?

ByABC News
January 31, 2006, 6:26 PM

Jan. 31, 2006 — -- A dog is among the honored guests sharing box seats with first lady Laura Bush during tonight's State of the Union address.

Rex, a 5-year-old German shepherd and former working military dog, will attend with Technical Sgt. Jamie Dana of Smethport, Pa., who joined the Air Force in 1998 and is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rex and Dana's journey began three years ago when they were a team assigned to search for explosives, first in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then in Iraq.

"With Rex, I put my life in Rex's hands," Dana told ABC News. "We're going looking for bombs, and if he doesn't find the bomb, we both could get blown up."

Last June they were on routine patrol after only three weeks in Iraq when her fears were realized. "They said it was a very large IED, basically went off right underneath the seat I was sitting in," she said, "and Rex was sitting right beside me."

Dana was seriously injured. In her last moments of consciousness, she was desperate to know if Rex had survived. "So I finally grabbed a medic's arm, and I asked, is my dog dead? And they told me yes -- and that broke my heart," she said.

Dana fell into a coma that lasted a month.

"As soon as I was conscious enough," she said, "I started asking about Rex, what had happened to him and that's when they told me he was alive.

"When he came in there, he just jumped on my bed and started licking my hand," she said. "Just to see him and touch and know he was alive. It was wonderful."

It turned out that Rex had escaped with just bump on his head, a burn on his nose and a cut on his paw.

"They'd be asking, 'Do I need anything?'" Dana said. "I was like, 'Yeah, I need to adopt my dog.'"

But that would be impossible. The Air Force had invested time and money to train Rex and he still had five to 10 years left in his hitch.

"Rex and I have been a team for so long, and I knew eventually I had to give him up," Dana said. "But then, when we almost died together, then it was like how can I give him up?"

For them to be reunited would take an act of Congress. Rep. John E. Peterson, R-Pa., heard Dana's story and worked to change legislation in her favor. Last month Congress voted to waive the rules for Dana and Rex, and the president signed off on it.

"It just seemed like Rex ought to be hers, and today Rex is hers," Peterson told ABC News. "Every once in a while, Congress gets something right. They got this one right."

Earlier this month, Rex was formally discharged. After eight years in the Air Force, Dana hopes to start a new life as a veterinarian -- with her best friend.

"He's been by my side for so long, and he was by my side through good and bad," she said, "so I hope he'll always be there."