Chris Willingham, Mama Lucca, Juan Rodriguez – Why we love them.

Parade magazine cover "A Marine's Best Friend" featuring MWD Lucca
NY Time's bestselling author Maria Goodavage's book cover to "TOP DOG" featuring Marine WMD Lucca.
NY Time’s bestselling author Maria Goodavage’s book cover to TOP DOG featuring Marine MWD Lucca.

Thank you to Parade magazine for sharing Lucca’s story with the world tomorrow.  Lucca K458 was a military working dog to whom we were introduced many, many years ago, while she and Chris were working together. MWDTSA is proud and honored to have supported them on multiple deployments.  We shared their story with the world via our MWDTSA Hero Dog nominations.

This team is worthy of the praise they received.  Along with Chris, we also have great respect and admiration for Juan who also played a huge role in Ms. Lucca’s life.

Could not be any prouder and I know our mutual friend, Terry, who was a Vietnam era handler and has now passed on, is smiling down today.  He was so proud of Chris.

A new book will be released soon, Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca.  It will be a both worth reading.  We’ll be writing a review in our Kennel Talk soon.

Military Working Dogs, Memorial Day and the June 2014 National Geographic Issue – a personal journey

Vietnam Veteran and MWD handler Johnny Mayo with a military working dog

Back in the late 1990’s I became introduced to Vietnam dog handlers. As new memorials were unveiled in 2000 to honor their dogs – one at Riverside, California and one at Fort Benning, Ga. – I witnessed first hand how the dog handlers from Vietnam honored their partners. It is as if the last 15 years they have tried very hard to remember what they tried so hard to forget the previous 30 years.

Their dogs were abandoned by their government, but never by the men who worked with them. People like, Johnny Mayo, photographed above, have spent hundreds of hours working to ensure that Military Working Dogs are recognized and given their appropriate place in our history and our hearts. Our June issue of Kennel Talk newsletter will feature links to the National Geographic video interview with Johnny.

It’s also true of our own organization, MWDTSA. It was co-founded by one Vietnam era Lt.Col and currently has two Vietnam dog handler veterans on our Board of Directors. What we have as our core driving point is that never again will one generation of dog handlers be abandoned by another.

Having met hundreds of dogs and dog handlers over the course of my now 15 years associated with MWDs, I can truly say these folks are a special breed all of their own. None more special than the lady below. When the Twin Towers came down in NY on September 11th, this young woman got in fighting shape and joined the military. She is probably one of the finest dog handlers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. So devoted to caring and training her dogs, that her home kennel recently was awarded the Kennel of the Year award.

Female handler and MWD

Donald T. Tabb
Donald T. Tabb
John Douangdara and MWD Bart
John Douangdara and MWD Bart

There have been loses, too. And, this weekend is hard for many people. Over the course of the next day, I will be placing photos on our Facebook page to honor the handlers who have been KIA during Operation Enduring Freedom an Operation Iraqi Freedom. One of the most respected of them all was Donald T. Tabb, the young man shown below.

Another death that was very hard to accept was the downing of the helicopter in August of 2011 with many members of Seal Team Six aboard. Included in that crash, was the dog handler, John Douangdara, and his dog Bart. His sister and family continue to honor him through memorials and support for military working dogs.

We ask that as you go about your weekend, you take time to pause and remember all of those who have been lost in service to this country.

Puppy Love

Miss Lola on the couch

MWDTSA has a lot of heart. We have amazing donors and spectacular volunteers. We have a lot of supporters, too. Including some of the canine persuasion. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share Miss Lola’s letter to any lonely deployed K9 boys out there. What dog could resist a girl like this?

Miss Lola relaxing in the car
Miss Lola relaxing in the car

Hello, fellow fur loves! My name is Lola and I am 18 pounds of pure Pug fury. I’m a lean, mean fighting machine. (Ok, maybe not THAT lean!) My mom keeps telling me about these awesome dogs that sniff out bombs and bad guys for a living, so I wanted to get to know some of you. First things first, allow me to give you my stats:

Age: 8
Nicknames: Round Mound of Hound, Fatty McFatty
Siblings: 1 fur brother, 2 little humans
Marital Status: Single and ready to mingle, if you like curvy girls 😉
Job: Snoring so loudly that I wake up the whole house
Likes: Food, naps, food, ear rubs, food, stealing toys from the little humans, food, chewing up said toys, did I mention food??
Dislikes: Long walks, any human that doesn’t feed me, and on most days, my 2 little human siblings
Aspirations: To grow a snout and be a bad a$$ bomb dog

So there you have it, the real reason I want to get to know you…I want to know what it takes for me to become a MWP, Military Working Pug. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh your furry tails off. My mom calls me “tank” for a reason! I plow through anything that stands in my way and I’m one tough cookie. Any advice that you fellow fur loves could give me would be great. Whew, I’m pumped just thinking about the possibilities! In the mean time, I will start training to become one of the best and brightest of the US Military…right after my nap.

To keep you wanting more, I have attached a picture of my lovely physique. I’m sure you’re panting heavily after seeing this, hope to hear from you soon!

Should any suitors be interested in writing to Miss Lola, you can reach her via her very cool mom, Nikki. nikki@mwdtsa.org

It’s A KONG Thing

Hatos balancing a KONG on his head

Thanks to all of our great partners in our KONGs for K9s events, we received matching KONGs today. In fact, so many were matched at one time, that we were asked to have them delivered to a store, because they were going to ship via a pallet. Stepping in to accept the donation on our behalf were local owners of TC Country, Fabio and Sabine Yepes.

KONG toys are a favorite of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and handlers. The bounce, texture and toughness makes them a perfect toy for a very motivated dog; a great reward for hard work put in by our MWDs.

Once delivered, we received the call from Fabio and Sabine so we rushed up to accept the boxes that arrived and stopped for a moment to take some photos. Inspired by one of our favorite MWD photos, Hatos balancing a KONG on his head, Fabio learned to do the same trick.

Apparently, you can teach an old dog a new trick, as demonstrated by our friend below.

Balancing a KONG on his head

Thanks to all of MWDTSA’s KONGs for K9s partners, the KONG Company matched us one for one.

KONGs in a box

The shipment should last a few months! At least through our next round of care packages.

An assortment of red and black KONG toys

We are appreciative of the hundreds of supporters whose purchase of one KONG at a time allowed us this amazing donation from the KONG Company.

Sorting through KONGs in boxes

Walking Post

Duke X601

Walking post was my responsibility, along with the handler the Air Force assigned to me. Heading towards nightfall, we loaded in the back of a deuce and a half and then drove out, with several other teams, to be posted along the perimeter of our Air Base.

My responsibility was serious. I had to stand guard all night long on the stretch of boundary to which I and my human counterpart were assigned. We had to keep the base assets and personnel safe. My handler was also my responsibility. You know, he worked hard, but he had many shortcomings. Lord, he could barely hear the quiet threats of the night and he couldn’t smell a snake if it bit him– which wasn’t an idle threat.

We had maybe 200 x 200 yards to guard, depending on the terrain and conditions. There were things out there in the dark, there really were. Most nights I didn’t worry my handler, too much. We’d walk, endlessly it seemed and then, for a few brief moments, if all seemed well, we might sit to take a load off. My buddy talked a lot about a place called home and I loved to listen to his voice. Home sounded great, I could hardly wait to get there.

My handler was nervous much of the time, but heck, you couldn’t blame him. I mean he was all of 19 and sometimes there were people out there trying to kill us. And the night, well, it does take its toll when you are at war and fear is already in the forefront of your mind. Usually things went smoothly, but every so often, just enough to keep us on our toes, we were challenged. I never failed my challenge, I never failed my country, but most importantly, I never failed my partner.

I know my buddy is anguished still about the time we were in Vietnam. But, he needs to know that I’m still watching over him. I am still his “Guardian of the Night”.

During the Vietnam War, dogs like Duke X601 guarded base personnel and assets at bases across southeast Asia; Vietnam and Thailand.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injury

I think there may be some folks wondering about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and its use to treat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I did some research online and thought I would share some information. Much of this information comes from the Mayo Clinic website which is a website that I believe is reliable.

Normally dry air contains about 21% oxygen. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room. The air pressure in the room is raised up to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions your lungs can gather up to three times more oxygen. As this oxygen circulates through the body, release of growth factors and stem cells are stimulated. These substances promote healing. Injured tissue requires increased oxygen to survive, heal and fight infection.

Currently TBI is not one of the injuries or illnesses traditionally treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Its effectiveness in this condition is considered unsupported by research/scientific evidence. Therefore most insurances will not cover this treatment and the VA does not provide it. However, some physicians/neurologists think that it is effective in treating TBI. Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment is typically an outpatient treatment and does not require hospitalization

As with all treatments or medications there are potential complications. These include temporary nearsightedness, seizures as a result of too much oxygen in the central nervous system, organ damage caused by air pressure changes and middle and inner ear damage including ear drum rupture due to the increased air pressure.

Since TBI affects so many parts of a persons life and presents so many ongoing challenges, I think it is certainly understandable that a person might want to pursue any treatment that might help. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a treatment for TBI that may be provided by the neurologists in the Healing Heroes Network. Their website is healingheroes.org. Other physicians may also provide this treatment for TBI.

Jeanne Dedrick

NAMI Homefront Helps Educate Military Families and Veterans

Sadly, we lost another hero to PTSD. Here is a link provided by our resident mental health expert to assist people as they deal with these issues. This is information that can be used by active duty, veterans or family members.

I sometimes bristle at calling PTSD a mental illness. Maybe that’s just me, but realizing some of the situations that these men and women have found themselves in on repeated deployments, I think many of us would be facing the same demons. Standing up to it, realizing it is a challenge and talking steps to make things better- that takes strength and courage. If you know of someone that has these issues, please share the following information.

62nd Combat Trackers from Vietnam Serve the Dog Handlers of Today

For many years, I have implored dog handlers to stay connected with their K9 friends and their unit, a task made much easier in the age of Facebook and the internet.  I say this because of all of the dog handlers from Vietnam who, in an age of snail mail and no internet, more easily lost touch and couldn’t easily reconnect with friends from their days of service.

Some of them have tried mightily to find others who shared their burdens and shared their sacrifices.  While I can never understand the emotions and the depths of these friendships, I do recognize a commitment to each other and a devotion to duty that still remains even 45-50 years later.

They are also committed to this country and to supporting current dog handlers.  Our 2nd VP and our Webmaster are both Vietnam veterans.  They would hard and do simply remarkable things with little resources.

Our 4th Quarter care packages were designed to recognize and honor this generational support with the theme of “Two Generations- One Cause.”  The boxes were packed in Louisiana at an annual Veterans’ Day reunion and include our 2014 calendar which honors both generations.  We also have donations that were made possible by Vietnam veterans at various companies.  And, on top of all of this the 62nd Combat Trackers and their loving and devoted wives spent time together to make this 4th Quarter Care Package possible.  Thanks to all of them.

photo 3 a

Savannah and the 62nd reunion 155 a
The last photo was taken in June of 2012 at a 62nd IPCT reunion in Savannah, GA. Everyone enjoyed the trip to visit the base and the handlers at Fort Stewart.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—Part Two

If you are a spouse, friend or family member of someone that you suspect may have PTSD, what can you do to help?

  1. Become educated! Two helpful websites are the National Institute of Mental Health and the Mayo Clinic websites. (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/ and www.mayoclinic.com) Also the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has a good website and in some communities provides a support group for families. The telephone number for NAMI is 800-950-6264. Their website is www.nami.org/.
  2. Take care of yourself! Don’t take responsibility for any difficult behavior the person with PTSD may display. Don’t take that person’s anger that is a part of the PTSD personally. Get help for yourself if you need to.
  3. Be a good listener! Listening means engaging with that other person in a non-critical manner and not just waiting for your turn to talk or thinking about what you are going to say next—or planning supper, etc. This requires some patience but can be a very healing thing. As a nurse in mental health we called this “therapeutic listening” and it is very important.
  4. Encourage the person with PTSD to seek appropriate treatment and if they do, support that treatment. If the person with PTSD refuses to seek treatment, continue to encourage but not “nag” (think encourage but in a negative way). I have tried nagging myself and have never found it to be very productive. Mostly I just cause frustration for myself and then there is a tendency to direct that frustration at others inappropriately. Remember each person is responsible for their own attitudes, actions and feelings. And see #2.

However, if you know or suspect that the person with PTSD is thinking about harming themselves or someone else, this is an emergency and you must do whatever is necessary to get the person help, including contacting 911.

Some signs that a person may be feeling suicidal are:

  1. Giving away cherished belongings. Getting their “affairs in order” with no logical reason.
  2. A sudden lifting of depression. Although this may seem like a good sign this can reflect a person’s relief that they have a plan to end their pain.
  3. Talking about suicide or expressing hopelessness or helplessness or wishing that they were dead. Sometimes people believe that if a person talks about suicide, they will not do it BUT this is absolutely NOT true.
  4. Risky or destructive behavior.
  5. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
  6. Stockpiling medication or acquiring a weapon.
  7. Withdrawing from social contact.
  8. Preoccupation with death and dying.
  9. Increased alcohol or drug use.
  10. Increased mood swings or a sudden personality change.
  11. Expressing feelings of worthlessness, guilt or shame.

Not every suicidal person displays the same symptoms or any symptoms at all. Males are more likely to use a lethally certain method for suicide. However, each person is different. Don’t take a chance with someone’s life. Asking about or talking about suicide will NOT “put the idea in their head” but may save their life. Try to remain calm and non-judgmental when talking to a suicidal person. Again, listening is very important.Some other useful phone numbers/websites are:

*Veteran’s Crisis Line—–800-273-8255 Press 1 for the Veteran’s Crisis Line (This number is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). The website is www.veteranscrisisline.net/.
*www.ptsd.va.gov
*www.helpguide.org

Now a note from my heart. If you believe you may be suffering from PTSD, please get help. I have heard and read that some people that are still active military are concerned that a diagnosis of PTSD will negatively affect their career. That is why I have included some nonmilitary resources. I sincerely hope that this concern will not prevent you from getting any help that you need. You have served your country and your fellow citizens well and you deserve the best quality of life possible.

Jeanne