Remembering Eli

Anyone who has experienced the loss of a pet knows they leave paw prints on our hearts forever. “Eli” Rusk, a bomb-sniffing dog turned family member, was more than a pet to the Rusk family. 

Assigned to the late U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Colton Rusk, Eli was a protector, a United States service member, and battle ground partner. When Corporal Rusk was gunned down by sniper fire in Afghanistan in 2010, Eli threw his body on his fallen handler and stayed with him until other Marines arrived at the scene. 

Following the loss of their son, Kathy and Darrell Rusk decided to adopt the dog who had shown so much devotion. Because the U.S. military had spent thousands of dollars on Eli’s training, he was still considered operational. However, the Secretary of the Navy approved his discharge, marking only the second time in history that a U.S. military dog has been adopted by the family of the fallen handler. Eli lived with the Rusk family in Orange Grove, Texas, for 12 years.

In early November, the Rusk Family shared that Eli passed away peacefully under the full moon on the front porch of his home. While we are saddened to hear of Eli’s passing, we are grateful to share their incredible story of human-animal companionship and loyalty. In a recent post, the Rusk Family wrote “Eli was and always will be family. As Colton once said when talking about Eli, what’s mine is also his.” The family shared one of their favorite pictures and described it as “how [we] choose to believe Colton and Eli met up again when Eli crossed over the rainbow bridge. Our heroes together again.”

The two are honored and remembered every day as the namesake and inspiration of Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation’s Rusk Veterinary Assistance Grant program. This program assists families in need of financial support to care for their companion and prolong their time together. The Rusk program preserves and strengthens the human-animal bond – the same bond exemplified by Eli and U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Colton Rusk. 

To make a donation to the Rusk Veterinary Assistance grant program in memory of Eli or your beloved companion, please visit