Molli Oliver works to reunite U.S. servicemen with their former canine companions
Author Rachel Ayres
When Los Angeles–based flight attendant Molli Oliver signed up to work a military charter flight back in April, she didn’t expect it to change her life.
You’ll typically find Oliver on the Los Angeles to Sydney flight, walking up and down the aisles, a smile on her face as she chats with and takes care of United passengers on the 14-hour flight. But, when she heard about this particular charter, which was flying U.S. Marines and their military working dogs overseas for deployment, she knew she wanted to be part of it.
During the flight, she struck up a conversation with Marine Sgt. Andrew Mulherron. Their conversation quickly turned to dogs—Oliver is passionate about rescuing dogs from shelters and has a 16-year-old shepherd named Smokie. Sgt. Mulherron told her about Boone, the black Labrador retriever he’d been deployed with in Afghanistan in 2010.
Boone was a military working dog trained to detect explosives. Sgt. Mulherron and Boone worked as a team in Afghanistan searching for roadside bombs. After their service, the dogs are retired from the military, and, in some cases, the dogs’ former handlers are able to adopt them.
“Andrew told me hadn’t seen Boone since 2010, and he’d been trying to track him down,” Oliver explains. “We all love our dogs, but there’s that extra bond between a Marine and his dog. The dogs are with them in battle, and they form powerful connections, just like they do with their fellow Marines.”
After hearing Sgt. Mulherron’s story, Oliver didn’t hesitate. “I told him I’d get his dog,” she says. “I didn’t know exactly how, but I knew I could make it happen.”
Oliver recently started rescuing dogs from shelters in Los Angeles and shipping them to new homes across the country using United’s PetSafe program, and she became very familiar with the process.
“It was so serendipitous,” Oliver says. “Of all the other flight attendants on that flight, he started chatting with me!”
In between her regular trips to Sydney, Oliver set to work coordinating with the military to get Boone, and she arranged to pick him up in Missouri and take him back to San Francisco, where Sgt. Mulherron’s parents would keep the dog until he returned from deployment in October. She even bought an extra seat so Boone would be comfortable on the flight and wouldn’t be in the way of other passengers.
“It was important for me to travel on my airline,” Oliver says. “I love what I do, and I just love getting to know our customers. If I didn’t, I probably never would have met Sgt. Mulherron.”
Through this journey, Oliver became close with the Mulherron family, and she was there when Sgt. Mulherron and Boone reunited in October.
“Andrew hadn’t seen Boone in five years, but Boone immediately recognized him—the tail started wagging, and Andrew was just beaming,” Oliver recalls, getting a little choked up telling the story. “It was wonderful to see him come home from his fourth deployment and be reunited with his dog.”
During her work to reunite Boone with Sgt. Mulherron, Oliver discovered another retired search dog, Gordo, and set to work coordinating his reunion with his former handler, Army Sgt. Seth Rodenberger. In August, she was able to walk Gordo off a United flight in Los Angeles straight into Sgt. Rodenberger’s waiting arms.
“I just have to do it,” Oliver says. “It’s how I can say thank you to those who serve our country.”
Oliver is creating a nonprofit called MUMS DOGS—Molli’s Uniting Military Service Dogs—to help bring more retired military working dogs together with their former handlers.
“Just knowing that I’m able to reunite them with their battle buddies is enough for me,” she says. “Their bond with their dogs is forever.”