It all started with a photograph. Last year, the touching image of a black lab named Hawkeye laying faithfully beside the flag-draped casket of his late master, Navy SEAL hero Jon Tumilson, swept the internet and made headlines most everywhere. It served as yet another stark reminder of the sacrifices made by our military men and women and their families (pets included). It also set the wheels in motion for tonight's episode.
There's no shortage of material when researching military personnel and their dogs. YouTube videos of soldier-canine reunions alone can leave you teary-eyed at your computer for hours. But quickly, my research led to the world of military working dogs and their handlers. These unsung heroes save thousands of lives each year, and the special bond between dog and handler rivals any human partnership you can find. Thanks to books like "Soldier Dogs" by Maria Goodavage, and "Sergeant Rex" by Marine Sergeant Mike Dowling, I learned a lot about the day-to-day challenges (and rewards) experienced by these brave teams. Fortunately, our fearless leader Gary Glasberg agreed that these experiences would serve as a great backdrop for NCIS. All I had to pitch was "Gibbs and a dog in Afghanistan" and we were off to the races.
This episode had a lot working in its favor. First and foremost, a top-notch director named Michael Weatherly. Yes, that Michael Weatherly. Your beloved DiNozzo is, indeed, a double threat. There's an old Hollywood axiom, often credited to WC Fields, that warns against working with children and dogs. But when Michael learned he'd be directing our "dog show", he didn't blink. He embraced the script from day one and brought an endless supply of ideas that only made it better. I couldn't have asked for a smarter partner in crime. Great guy and a gifted collaborator.
Secondly, we had a terrific dog in Dexter. Smart as a whip and handled brilliantly by his trainers Mark Harden and Tom Roach. Even "Sergeant Rex" author Mike Dowling, who served as technical advisor on the episode, was impressed. Thanks to Mike for keeping us honest and repeatedly reminding us that we'd cast "one fantastic dog."
Speaking of casting, we were blessed with top-notch guest stars like Kelli Barrett, Michael Grant Terry, Billy Smith, and Linara Washington. With the help of our own brilliant ensemble of Cote, Sean, David, Rocky and Pauley, the entire cast rallied around Michael to bring heart and soul to every moment. Which brings me, of course, to the incomparable Mark Harmon. It's pretty clear in every frame that Harmon's a dog lover. Without his emotional core, bonding with Dex on screen the way he did, there would be no story to tell. Thanks to Mark for being a great friend and team captain.
Here's also a huge shout-out of thanks to the best damn crew in television. Braving some dusty, windy conditions in "Afghanistan", they busted their butts to make it look and sound incredibly real. It's an absolute honor to get to work with them every day.
Lastly, this episode is dedicated to military working dogs and their brave handlers everywhere. Plans for the Military Working Dog National Monument are currently under way in San Antonio, Texas. Hopefully, such recognition will let dog teams know more than ever that they are admired and appreciated throughout this country and the world. Thank you all for your service and sacrifice to our country.