Will Chesney

St. Martin’s Press

No Ordinary Dog by Will Chesney with Joe Layden shows why dogs are man’s best friend. The canine four-legged patriots put their lives on the line for their partners but also to keep Americans safe. The heart of the book is the love between a man and his dog. Although both are elite soldiers, ultimately, they were a man and dog that had a bond like no other.

This July 4th, Americans should remember why it is important to celebrate.  Chesney and his dog Cairo served gallantly to make sure that that their fellow citizens were able to enjoy inalienable rights endowed equally to all including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some might remember the name, Cairo, since this Belgian Malinois military working dog went on the mission to get Osama bin Laden along with his handler Will and approximately two dozen others. They were able to find and kill the man who wanted to take away all the liberties. Everyone on that mission, except Cairo received a Silver Star for their “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.” Will was disappointed because he felt that Cairo risked just as much.  

But the book does not begin with that mission but with Will, a recent high school graduate, deciding he wants to be a Navy SEAL. The first part of the book has details of SEAL training. The next portion of the book talks about how the military acquires their Combat Attack Dogs and goes about training them. But the meat of the story begins in 2008 when Will decided to become a Navy dog handler and he met his partner, Cairo. They worked side by side, depending on each other for survival on hundreds of critical operations in the war on terrorism.  The book ends with Will and Cairo together helping each overcome their emotional and physical wounds.  Will was recovering from TBI, while Cairo from his many wounds received while a military dog. 

Will told how he feels privileged while serving alongside “some of the bravest and best men you could ever hope to meet.  I also had the distinct honor of working and living with an unusual and unsung hero, a four-legged warrior named Cairo. He did everything expected of his human counterparts, and he did it with unblinking loyalty and unwavering courage.  I would have taken a bullet for him, and he did in fact take one for me. Cairo became my dog.  And I was his dad.”

When asked if he agrees with the quote by Senator Martha McSally in her book, Dare To Fly, “I wouldn’t have survived this far without the unconditional love of the furry, four-legged angels in my life.  You can make it through nearly anything if you come home to the love of a dog who brings smiles, joy, and a coat to dry all tears.”

He responded, “Definitely yes!  Anyone who has ever shared his life with a dog understands the symbiotic nature of the relationship. A dog relies on us for sustenance and shelter, while they respond with love and loyalty that is unconditional.  Take that relationship and multiply it tenfold and that is the bond forged between a military handler and their dog.”

Cairo was a dog with athletic ability, sensory gifts, and a tireless work ethic. Yet, he was also affectionate with a laid-back demeanor.  Will describes it “as throwing a switch.  When it was time to go to work, he would work. There was also something else that made him special, a ferocious drive to perform and serve with his human counterparts in Special Operations. He could sniff out an IED, saving dozens of lives, or find the bad guys. But he knew when we went home it was time to hang out. He and I would sit on the coach and watch movies together or eat steak together.  I could sleep right next to him and trust him with strangers and children. He was in many ways my closest friend.”

To show what a special dog Cairo was there is a scene in the book where, in Afghanistan, they encountered some insurgents.  Cairo could help neutralize the enemy by taking away their advantage, the ability to hide.  He was following the scent, weaving in and out of the trees.  Then, shots rang out.  He came upon two terrorists and engaged one of them.  The other one shot at Cairo, who was hit in the chest and leg.  This revealed the insurgent’s position, which saved SEAL lives.  After hearing Will call out his name, Cairo was able to find his way back, collapsing from a nearly shattered leg and a gaping chest wound.

Will explained, “He was treated just like a soldier, one of the family of brothers.  The medic came up and stuffed gauze into the chest wound.  Within a few minutes a medevac helicopter came and flew us back to Sharana where a team of doctors worked on him for hours.  These were physicians who normally treated human soldiers. He was treated just like any other soldier.  They didn’t treat Cairo like a dog, but simply as a wounded member of the US Armed Forces.  They performed an emergency tracheotomy to open his airway and inserted chest tubes. They put a brace on his leg to stabilize the wound and to keep his femur from falling apart. He was then put on a plane bound for Bagram Airfield where there were veterinary staff. While recovering he had rehab and then back to Lackland Air Force base in Texas. Eventually he recovered and was able to resume his life as a critical member of our team.”

Through thick and thin Will and Cairo were there for each other.  Starting in 2012 Will had debilitating and painful headaches, probably caused from a grenade blast experienced in Afghanistan. The headaches had become chronic, which caused depression that led to self-medication.  To make matters worse, there was the fact that he had an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury.  He became confused and angry and terrified. His hair was falling out from the stress.  What finally helped him was stopping by the kennel to play with Cairo, which is when he decided that he wanted Cairo to retire with him. 

“I wanted him to be with me and my girlfriend Natalie.  He had earned a better life that included chilling at home with dad, eating a steak, running loose in the yard or at the beach, watching TV, sleeping wherever the hell he wanted to sleep.  Cairo had served his country honorably, saving my life and countless others. It seemed only right that he gets a chance to have a few happy and relaxing years. I felt he needed me, and I sure needed him. In April 2014 he came home.” 

What makes Will special as an author is that he can put into words what others are feeling.  Anyone who is a dog lover and who has lost a dog can relate to what Will said in the book. The story does not “end on a high note.  It never does with dogs, right?  Someone once said that buying a dog is like buying a small tragedy.  You know on the first day how it all will turn out.  But that’s not the point, is it?  It’s the journey that counts, what you give the dog and what you get in return.”  He directly noted, “Our relationship was based on mutual respect, trust, and love.”

Readers will take a journey with Will.  They will get to know Cairo, and understand the relationship that forges between a dog and handler.  This book is informative, heartfelt, and also a heart-wrenching memoir about a Navy Seal and his bond with Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, designated a combat assault dog.  As Will said in summarizing their relationship, “Cairo gave me more than I ever imagined, probably more than I deserved. The bond is crazy.”



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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.