Amanda Payne ’05 always wanted to work with canines. After graduating from UCF with a degree in criminal justice, she joined the Maitland Police Department to gain experience in law enforcement. But she was always looking forward to someday partnering with a dog like Coli.

Payne enlisted in the Army because it offered her a quicker path to her calling. While stationed at Fort Carson, CO, in 2012, she met Coli. The beautiful, black-and-tan German shepherd had been trained as a Patrol Explosive Detection Dog, and was not necessarily interested in meeting Payne’s acquaintance.

(Dogs and horses share love and loyalty with UCF students, alumni and faculty. To read about some other enduring relationships, check out the College of Health & Public Affairs’ “A Knight’s Best Friend” stories.)

“I picked him up, it was bumpy at first,” Payne said. “He would test me when I would walk in his run.” [“Test” in this usage means “bite.”] Military Working Dogs [MWDs] are alpha dogs.”

Payne said another handler told her “there will be that one dog you will connect with unlike any other dogs you may work with.” For Payne, that dog was Coli.

Payne and Coli certified as a team in August 2012, and were immediately assigned to work with the U.S. Secret Service at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. “That week in Florida really helped us bond,” Payne said.

Shortly after their first assignment together, Payne and Coli were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was Coli’s third deployment and Payne’s first.

The war claimed the lives of more than 2,300 troops in support of operations in Afghanistan. When Payne returned home a year later, she said, “I was a different person.”

Payne and Coli reunited after Coli’s retirement. “I felt safe and calm with him,” Payne said. And though Coli wasn’t officially working anymore, he had assumed the role of Payne’s therapy dog. Their joy together was short-lived.

“Coli retired and had been with me for about nine months,” Payne said, when she received orders to go to South Korea. “This was heartbreaking for me because I could not take Coli.”

Coli was well cared for by Payne’s father and sister, but it didn’t make the year in South Korea any easier.

“That year in Korea about nearly killed me,” Payne said. “My best friend was not there and I needed him.”

After that long year, Payne relocated to Augusta, GA, and after she got settled, her father and sister took Coli up for a joyous reunion. “I felt back to normal,” Payne said.

Coli and the other MWDs do “whatever it takes to keep their handlers out of harm’s way and happy,” Payne said. “To be able to adopt an MWD is the greatest feeling in the world – finally, they can live like a normal dog.”

In the year the partners were separated, Coli had begun to deteriorate physically. He was granted retirement because of lumbrosacral stenosis, a spinal cord disease that causes pain and weakness in the lower back, hind legs and tail. It is a complicated disease to treat.

Fortunately for Payne and Coli, Fort Gordon has a veterinarian who specializes in the complex treatment of LS, and Coli began to respond to his therapies. His time at the vet’s office was like going to a doggy day care. “He was spoiled by all who work there,” Payne said. “He had that personality and sparkle to him. Everyone he came across loved him.”

Not long after being cleared by his vet at a regular checkup, Coli and Payne had settled into a new routine. But one day when Payne got up to start her day, she turned on the light and saw thatColi was gasping for air.

“I quickly got dressed and started to pick him up to take him to the Augusta Animal Emergency hospital,” Payne said. She began CPR on Coli, but it was too late. “My whole world was gone in an instant.”

Wanting answers, Payne asked the vet to examine Coli. What she found was that Coli likely had an undetected tumor that had burst.

“Until his death, I had not realized all the lives Coli had touched, other than mine. He was truly a best friend, partner and protector,” Payne said. “I am grateful for the chance to share Coli’s story to honor and remember everything he did for our country, for me and for everyone who met him.”\

Payne is scheduled to deploy in the next few weeks. She recently received a promotion, and is now a kennel master. She will supervise six MWDs.