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An Airman, a dog and an act of Congress

An Air Force tech sergeant wounded by a bomb blast in Baghdad wants to adopt the bomb-sniffing dog she worked with in Iraq. But as NBC's Chip Reid reports, it will take an act of Congress to make it happen.

They had worked together for three years — Air Force Tech Sergeant Jamie Dana and her bomb sniffing dog, Rex — when, last June in Iraq, a roadside bomb exploded under their Humvee.

Sgt. Dana, with massive internal bleeding, a fractured spine and collapsed lungs, had one question for the doctors.

“I said, ‘Is my dog dead?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And that just breaks your heart,” she recalls.

Dr. Paul Morton was one of the doctors. Last Friday, he and Dana met for the first time since that day. 

“We were all worried about you that day,” he told her. “We thought you were going to die.”

But through it all, Morton says, Dana never stopped asking about Rex — refusing to believe he had died.

The news finally came weeks later while she recuperated at a military hospital.

“They told me he was coming down the hall,” Dana says. “So I whistled at him and he came running into the room. He jumped up on the bed with me and got tangled up in my IV line.”

Now Dana wants to adopt Rex, and she has the support of the Air Force.

“She and Rex went through that together,” says Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Holmes, “And I think our leadership feels that they need to heal together.”

But there's still a problem. It takes an act of Congress for a military working dog to retire early. If Congress does not act, Rex will be taken away from Dana and brought to a military dog training facility at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Dana's injuries will probably force her to retire from the military soon. While she waits, she volunteers at an animal sanctuary and dreams of becoming another kind of vet: a veterinarian. She wants Rex to be a part of whatever she ends up doing. 

“I pray every day,” she says, “that Rex will be a part of it.”

He's not just her best friend, she says, but the key to her recovery.

Now it's up to Congress to decide if they stay together. Currently, Rex's retirement is attached to the Defense Appropriations Bill. A spokesman for Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., who represents Dana's district, says "it's not a matter of whether the act passes, it's a matter of when."