Leland Melvin has been a professional football player and an astronaut on the space shuttle, but he's probably most famous for a single photo of him and his two rescue dogs, Jake and Scout. You probably recognize this adorable snapshot, it's been shared endlessly since a reporter uncovered it a few years ago, but there's an incredible story behind the picture you might not know.
When Leland rescued the two dogs years ago they became a huge part of his life, and he didn't let anything stop him from including them in his official NASA photo.
Leland adopted Jake, who had spent most of his life with an abusive family who kept him locked in a closet-sized room. Then, Scout wandered onto Melvin's property one day. Melvin thinks he was abandoned because he had caught heartworms.
The trio quickly became inseparable. In fact, Jake was so protective of Melvin that they had to ask for help from Cesar Milan to make him friendlier. Melvin took his pets hiking and traveled the country with them, so of course he wanted to include them in his official NASA photo.
But dogs weren't allowed on NASA property, so Melvin had to sneak them in.
“I kept the window up...and I had the stereo blasting because the dogs were barking," he told Gizmodo.
"So I gunned it and the [security guard] didn’t chase me or anything.”
Sadly, since the photo was taken in 2009, both Jake and Scout have passed away.
But looking at his photo with them still makes Melvin happy.
"If you look at the picture, all of us are holding hands, all of us are connected," he says, "and it was just incredible.”
Melvin says that as soon as he can he plans to adopt new dogs and name them Scout and Jake.
"Our animals make us better people," Melvin told the TODAY show.
"And if we're better people, the world's a better place."
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