Preventing dog heatstroke

To emphasize the risk of dog heat stroke, this graphic demonstrates how quickly a car heats up inside at various outside temperatures.

Military working dog handlers will tell you that overheating is their greatest dog first aid concern. On this first day of summer, MWDTSA is honored to share the following safety information from Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, reprinted with permission of the author.

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Never leave a dog in a vehicle in the sun, even if the temperature is mild and the windows are open. In a matter of minutes, a K9 can become overheated while exercising, playing or just by being left in the heat with no water or shade. Heat exhaustion can quickly become a life-threatening heatstroke, which can cause organ failure and death.

Always provide access to fresh water and shade – especially in the heat of the day.

Obesity and pre-existing medical conditions put pets at much higher risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with dark-colored or long-haired coats are more at risk, and flat-faced breeds, including bulldogs and pugs, are more susceptible to overheating.

If you are concerned about a pet (or person) that is locked in a hot car, contact your local law enforcement. The Colorado legislature passed a law in 2017 that provides immunity from prosecution for civilians who break into a locked vehicle to rescue a dog, cat, or at-risk person.

​Signs of heat exhaustion

  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Heavy panting and rapid breathing
  • Excessive drooling that then turns to thick tenacious saliva
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Dry tacky gums and mucous membranes
  • Weakness or struggling to maintain balance
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Body temperature of 104 degrees or greater
  • Elevated heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Confusion or disorientation

Signs of dog heatstroke

  • White or blue gums
  • Labored, noisy breathing
  • Frantic panting or wheezing
  • Rapid heart rate and drooling
  • Uncontrollable urination and or defecation
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lethargy or unwillingness to move
  • Lack of coordination
  • Unconsciousness

What to do if a dog is suffering from heatstroke

  • Move the animal to shade or a cooler environment
  • Provide cool, fresh drinking water
  • Cool the dog down with water or covered ice packs on the belly only
  • Do not force-feed water if the pet cannot drink freely on its own
  • Do not submerge the pet, this may cause further harm when temperature regulation is impaired
  • Do not cover, crate, or otherwise confine the pet
  • Even if your dog is responding well to cooling treatments, it is imperative that you contact (and go to) an emergency veterinarian

Memorial Day 2019: Remembering the ultimate sacrifice

Handler and military working dog stand before MWD memorial on Guam.
“25 Marine War Dogs gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944. They served as sentries, messengers, and scouts. They explored caves, and detected mines and booby traps.” U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John F. Looney [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emails, Facebook posts, and retail store signs exclaim, “Happy Memorial Day!” At each one, I bristle and my mind travels back to a 1983 conversation with Moshe, a 15-year-old Israeli exchange student.

Moshe’s stay in the U.S. included the Memorial Day weekend, and he passionately spoke out against the celebratory atmosphere. “This is wrong,” he said. “Memorial Day isn’t about partying and shopping. It’s about remembering the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It is supposed to be a solemn occasion. You don’t say, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’ You say, ‘Thank you.’”

Moshe’s words continue to resonate with me today. Ads announcing big Memorial Day blowout sales compete with media coverage of commemorative activities and veterans’ stories. Low-price promises and beer fests distract us from the meaning and intent of the day.

We, the volunteers of MWDTSA, encourage you to take time this weekend to reflect on the sacrifices of our nation’s two- and four-legged heroes. Visit a cemetery, study the grave markers, and place flags or flowers to say thank you. Watch a documentary, begin a biography, or read news articles about a fallen service member.

MWDTSA thanks handlers and MWDs, past and present, for your dedication to preserving our nation’s freedoms and protecting the United States of America. We feel enormous gratitude for your service.

“It takes a village”

This photo shows the Soda Pup "Heart on a String" rope toy, along with the front and back of a card we enclosed in each care package describing the collaboration with Dita the Hairmissile Dog. It takes a village to fill each care package.

We often say, “It takes a village” to fill our quarterly care packages. Four times a year, we send out approximately 200 large USPS Flat-Rate boxes, and we aim to fill them completely. Many thanks to the following Q1-2019 corporate donors…

Scout Troop 171 in Boulder, Colorado periodically sells coffee to raise money for backpacking trips and Scout camps. This year, they added an option for non-coffee drinkers—the opportunity to donate coffee for MWDTSA care packages.

Creative collaboration

This photo shows the three coffee blends MWDTSA included in Q1-2019 care packages.Sticks Coffee in Superior, Colorado also hosted a coffee fundraiser. As patrons streamed in from hockey tournaments, the cashiers asked, “Would you like to add a $10 donation to your purchase today to send coffee to a deployed military working dog handler?” Signs on the doors and at the register invited customers to take part in the drive.

Meanwhile, 822 miles away, Coffee.org of Fort Smith, Arkansas offered a stunning bulk purchase discount. This allowed donor dollars to stretch further to cover 100 percent of MWDTSA’s Q1-2019 coffee needs. We sent three small bags of coffee in each Q1 box, including a special blend that Coffee.org formulated specifically for MWDTSA. The label featured our “You and me” Q1 logo and the words “Reveille Blend: Just like the bugle, this coffee will wake you up!”

A neighborhood effort

This photo shows packets of Smokehouse Jerky Company Gourmet Brisket Beef Jerky.A post to the Oh-Oh-Two-Seven Facebook page, which serves zip codes 80027 and 80026, brought forth additional offers of help. Louisville Realty Associates (LRA) asked about our greatest Q1 needs. We had not yet secured Q1 jerky donations for handlers or dogs, so they took on that activity.

The same week LRA stepped forward, Smokehouse Jerky of California offered another generous bulk purchase discount. LRA, Nickerson Marketing, and Deep End Solutions pooled resources to fund the jerky purchase for handlers. Additionally, LRA made a personal introduction to a friend at Buckley Pet, a local dog treat manufacturer. Buckley Pet donated 200 bags of Skin & Coat Beef Jerky, enough to send one in every care package.

For the handlers…

This handsome FIFTY/FIFTY 20-ounce tumbler displays the Truckers for Troops logo.OOIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) of Grain Valley, Missouri sponsors a “Truckers for Troops” fundraiser each year. Taking advantage of a generous discount from FIFTY/FIFTY, OOIDA purchased 200 coffee tumblers for our Q1-2019 boxes.

We stuffed these 20-ounce tumblers to the brim with donations from Juanita’s Pepitas, Perfetti Van Melle, Phillips Pet Food & Supplies, Picky Bars, Sweetwood Smokehouse, and VerMints.

Other handler surprises included dried apricots from Mariani Packing Company; Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds; Honey Stinger waffles; Cocomels from JJ’s Sweets, Inc.; cooling wipes from Duke Cannon; and magazines from 5280.

Each handler also received a t-shirt emblazed with “You and me, Malintine,” in honor of Valentine’s Day. We are grateful to Christian Print Shop, Inc. of Alpharetta, Georgia for their long-term support of MWDTSA with high-quality t-shirts. And to the five Kohl’s employees from the Louisville, Colorado store, who folded all 200 t-shirts into plastic bags with size labels!

The students of Jefferson Academy in Broomfield, Colorado created art to include in the care packages. This school has supported MWDTSA with art three times—Q4-2016, Q4-2017, and Q1-2019.

For the four-legged troops…

Woobamboo donated Large-Breed toothbrushes for the second year in a row.

A Petco Foundation grant, coupled with bulk purchase pricing from Prima Pets, enabled us to send a sturdy collapsible dog bowl in each care package.

Rex Specs hosted a donation drive in December to collect protective eyewear for our military working dog teams.

“Dita’s Donation Drop,” sponsored by Dita The Hairmissile, plus a matching program by SodaPup, yielded 200 Heart-on-a-String toys for our Q1-2019 boxes. And yes, these dogs do have our human hearts on a string.

Thanks to the annual KONGs for K9s drive, we included the KONG Extreme Tire in each care package. Numerous retailers and veterinary clinics help with this drive each year—including three that contributed to Q1-2019 care packages in other ways. Action-Packed Pup collected both tires and undercoat rakes. Kriser’s Natural Pet in Westminster, Colorado invited us to do an in-store event to collect tires and dog jerky.

A special shout-out to Chuck and Don’s Pet Food & Supplies (Longmont, Erie, and Arvada, Colorado). The Longmont store has hosted MWDTSA for in-store fundraising events for 30 straight months. They have taken part in the KONGs for K9s drive for three years. They have led our quarterly care package assembly twice. The managers of the Erie and Arvada stores, along with an Arvada team member, spearheaded our Q1-2019 packing event.

And last but not least…

Hats off to the Louisville (CO) Police Department for hosting our 2019 packing event and allowing us to make a temporary mess in the basement of the police station. We are grateful for your hospitality—two years in a row.

And to the United States Postal Service in Louisville, Colorado for spending a Sunday with us for the second year in a row. It was amazing to have you at the end of our packing line, and you worked tirelessly to get the boxes to the Post Office on a cold night, well after sunset.

Many thanks to all who made the Q1-2019 care packages possible, including a multitude of Amazon Wish List donors. UPS Store 1905 graciously received the many Amazon boxes and manufacturer donations, holding packages for us until we could pick them up. Nashville Wraps provided bags and ribbon for packaging donated candy.

Your contributions allow us to support both ends of the leash, and we are grateful.

Interested in helping with future care packages? Here are 14 ways to get involved, including a link to our Amazon Wish List. Or reach out to president@MWDTSA.org.

14 ways to support military working dog teams

This photo shows care packages items sent in Q1-2019 to support military working dog teams.

If you, a group, or your company would like to support military working dog teams, here are several ways to get involved. Pick something from the following list, or use these ideas as inspiration for a new endeavor. It takes a village to fill our quarterly care packages. We invite you to join us in supporting both ends of the leash.

1) Donate 200 of an item.

We try to make each quarter’s care packages relatively uniform, so that all recipients are getting the same dog toys, snacks, etc. This means we need 200 of any item we’re planning to send. Every quarter, we aim to include made-in-USA jerky, dog treats, human snacks, grooming products, and other supplies. If your company makes a product you think handlers or their dogs might like, let’s talk! If you are able to provide the full quantity of an item, we add you to our sponsor page (https://mwdtsa.org/sponsors/). We also highlight your involvement via our social media channels.

2) Provide a bulk-purchase discount.

If you are not able to outright donate 200 of a particular product, consider offering a bulk purchase discount. If MWDTSA can buy your product below wholesale cost, the difference between your discounted and wholesale price is tax-deductible. We provide a donor acknowledgement letter for your tax records.

3) Offer a matching program.

Customers buy one, and you throw in a second—so we end up with two care package items for the price of one.

4) Team together to sponsor a care package item.

Maybe you’re a real estate company or high-tech firm that doesn’t manufacture products, but you’d still like to help fill care packages. MWDTSA can match you with a bulk-purchase discount, enabling your organization’s donation dollars to have more purchase power.

5) Plan a fundraiser.

In the past, volunteers have coordinated golf tournaments, 5Ks, nail trimming events, Chick-fil-A fundraising nights, and other creative activities—all to raise money for MWDTSA care packages. Destination Imagination teams, Scout troops, Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates, coffee shops, breweries, and others looking for a service opportunity can make a big impact for MWDTSA.

6) Host a toy/treat drive.

If you own a retail store, veterinary clinic, or grooming salon, you can order in one of our wish-list products, place it at the register, and ask clients, “Would you like to add a treat for a military working dog to your purchase today? We’re collecting care package items for dogs deployed in global combat zones.” Customers leave their donation with you, and at the end of the drive, MWDTSA makes arrangements to get the donated products to our packing location.

7) Make an introduction.

Maybe your neighbor’s company produces an amazing snack item. We can equip you to approach your friend with a donation request. Your personal introduction can pave the way for important new partnerships and collaborations.

8) Add MWDTSA as an option on your order form.

If your kids are selling coffee or candy to raise money for their school or sports teams, they probably encounter the word “no” quite a bit. What if they could add this to their spiel: “If you are not a coffee consumer, you can also support our school/team by purchasing coffee to donate to a deployed military working dog handler.”

9) Adopt a care package.

Each care package involves approximately $150 in products and postage. Manufacturers donate many of the items we include. However, every quarter, we need assistance to cover t-shirts, tactical patches, postage, and other items. You can “adopt” a package by making a $75 donation via PayPal to fill these needs. This option includes the following benefits for donors:

  1. We will include a card in the care package, acknowledging who sponsored the box.
  2. You can dedicate the box. For example, “We are sending this care package in honor of Joe Sample, who served in World War II.”

This is a fun option for a Scout troop, school group, company, or family that wants to support military working dog teams. For more information, contact president@mwdtsa.org.

10) Collect children’s art.

A colorful painting of a dog provides cheer for handlers. Each quarter, we need at least 200 pieces of children’s art. Contact president@mwdtsa.org for criteria regarding size, subject matter, and medium.

11) Write letters of encouragement.

No one knows about deployments better than veterans who have served in global combat zones. Think back to your time overseas. Are there funny stories you can share? Advice you wish you had known earlier? Poems that boosted your morale? We’re looking for veterans groups who would like to write letters so that every care package we send has a personal communication in it.

12) Join Amazon Smile.

If you regularly shop on Amazon for your business or home, Amazon Smile donates a portion of your purchase price to the nonprofit of your choice. Choose Military Working Dog Team Support Association, and every purchase you make will help support military working dog teams.

13) Visit our Amazon Wish List.

Each quarter, and for special occasions such as National K9 Veterans Day, we maintain a registry of products we plan to include in upcoming care packages. You simply purchase one or more items, and Amazon sends them directly to our packing coordinator. Each wish list donation is tax deductible.

14) Donate through PayPal.

To send one care package requires nearly $18 in postage, and we send about 200 boxes per quarter. Some individuals and businesses contribute dollars to cover the postage bill.

Thank you for helping us support both ends of the leash!

Photo credit: Alex Sierra, Kohl’s, Louisville, CO captured this image of MWDTSA’s Q1-2019 care package contents. Alex and four colleagues from Kohl’s helped with pre-packing activities such as folding 200 t-shirts and inserting them in plastic sleeves.

Q1-2019: You and me, Malintine

Military working dog wearing Rex Specs sits beside Q1-2019 care package contents.

MWDTSA formally acknowledged Valentine’s Day with its Q1-2019 care packages. It’s been over 10 years since we’ve featured hearts and romance in our boxes. While “romance” might be too strong a word, we set out to honor the timeless bond between handler and dog. It’s a special kind of love worth celebrating.

We fiddled with a few different ideas. Shep-heart. Love-rador. But we decided “You and me, Malintine” has a ring to it. Knowing that some handlers’ partners are not Malinois, we stopped at “You and me” for the tactical patches.

Pictures are starting to roll in, and this is one of our favorite so far! 🙂

p.s. If you’d like to contribute to Q2 care packages, visit MWDTSA’s Amazon wish list or our web site. Thanks for helping us support both ends of the leash.

Rex Specs co-founder speaks on dog eye care

This photo features a Coast Guard K9 wearing dog eye protection. Superimposed on the photo is a message from Rex Spec about the donation drive.

Rex Specs dog goggles are high-quality protective eyewear for the active and working dog. They typically retail for $80, but this holiday season, the company is hosting a donation drive for the Military Working Dog Team Support Association (MWDTSA). If you donate $40, Rex Specs will work with MWDTSA to deliver protective eyewear for a military working dog deployed in a global combat zone.

This year, we have set the goal to include Rex Specs in all 200 Q1-2019 care packages that MWDTSA will ship out in February. These goggles shield the eyes of MWDs from helicopter rotor wash, desert sand storms, winter blizzards, and other environmental hazards. With the holidays coming up, it’s a great way to honor our nation’s four-legged heroes.

MWDTSA had the opportunity to talk with Rex Specs co-founder, Jesse Emilo, to discuss the need for K9 eye protection.

Q: In what situations can dogs benefit from protective eyewear?

This photo shows two dogs on a hiking trail, wearing Rex Specs dog eye care goggles. The tinted lenses shield their eyes from the intense sun.
Photo credit: Drew Smith

A: In any situation where humans wear eye protection, it’s important to consider whether a dog also needs eye protection.

UV rays, dust, dirt, debris—and even grass, seeds, and sticks—pose potential hazards for dogs. Canines living at high altitude and in sunny environments experience intense and prolonged UV exposure that can harm their eyes. In some cases, time in the sun can aggravate existing medical conditions such as iris atrophy or pannus. Goggles provide UV protection so that a dog’s time outdoors does not need to be limited or restricted.

Dogs that are deployed from helicopters (MWDs, Police K9s, Search and Rescue, etc.) or that live and work in areas with lots of particulates use goggles to help protect from foreign objects getting into the eye.

There are dogs that accompany their handlers in unique situations and environments, such as chemistry labs or welding shops, where eye protection is worn by all—so why not the dog? Many dogs wear goggles for protection while sticking their head out the car window or while riding in a motorcycle sidecar.

Whether your dog’s eyes are healthy or they suffer from an eye disease, many people choose to protect their four-legged companion’s eyes before an injury occurs.

Working dogs such as MWDs, hunting dogs, and other highly trained K9s have hundreds or thousands of hours of training. An eye injury could end their career. Rex Specs act as insurance to protect your partner from eye harm.

Q: What are the risks dogs (and their owners) face if a dog does not wear protective goggles?

This photo shows a working dog on leash, wearing Rex Specs goggles.
Rex Specs dog goggles are designed tough for the working dog. Features include a low-profile strap system for custom fit and harness integration, as well as a durable frame that stands up to rugged use. Spherical ANSI-rated UV400 lenses provide a full field of view and impact protection. (Photo courtesy of Rex Specs)

A: Some dogs have eye conditions that are genetically inherited, and some face on-the-job or other environmental hazards. The risks associated with not wearing goggles depend on the circumstances.

One of our dogs, Yaz, lacks pigment around the eye, resulting in severe sunburn when outside all day. Her eye would get red and puffy for a few days after being in the sun for too long. Sometimes, she would even develop a scab on her eyelid. At the age of 8, she needed entropion surgery on the eye.

The surgery was costly, and we felt badly about bringing her on all-day outdoor adventures without protecting her eyes—before and especially after surgery. Now that we have Rex Specs, we can bring her along on the boat or out in the sun for a long day, with confidence that she’s O.K.

Our other dog, Tuckerman, was diagnosed with pannus at the age of 2. It’s an autoimmune condition that affects the cornea (the clear) part of the eye. If left untreated, it eventually can scar the eye so badly that it causes vision impairment or blindness. This condition can worsen with UV exposure.

One treatment for pannus is daily steroid drops. This prescription is not cheap when accumulated over a lifetime. Goggles are a less expensive alternative. Tuckerman still has pannus, but at the age of 9, he’s doing well. With his Rex Specs, we feel good about bringing him on long runs and adventures, knowing he’s protected from UV rays.

Q: Some dogs swipe their eye area with a paw in an effort to remove an irritant. What other signals/symptoms should dog owners watch for that might indicate an eye injury or irritation?

A: Wiping or pawing at the eye should definitely trigger owners to take a closer look at their dog’s eyes. Other signs of possible irritation include discharge, redness, or swelling. If you suspect something is wrong with your dog’s eye, document the issue, take photos, and check it frequently. If it’s becoming worse or not improving, consult your veterinarian. Eyes are sensitive and delicate. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so call your vet if you have any questions or concerns. Treating an injury early can help keep the pain down, expedite the healing time, and minimize the cost associated with the injury.

Q: Are there any basic first aid/home care tips that owners should know when caring for their dogs’ eyes? In addition to goggles, are there any particular dog eye care supplies owners should always have on hand?

We recommend giving your dogs an overall checkup quite often, and particularly after they are exposed to harsh environments or show signs of possible injury. Check their entire body, not just their eyes. Bird-hunting dogs, for example, often run through tall grass and thorny weeds. Look closely at their paws, bodies, faces, and eyes to make sure there are no scratches, or embedded debris or grass seeds. One thing that’s nice to have on hand is saline solution, which can be used to rinse or flush a dog’s eye.

Q: What are common mistakes dog owners make when caring for their dogs’ eyes, and what should owners do instead?

A: The most common mistake might be not giving your dog’s eyes the attention they deserve. Most medical conditions get worse over time and are easy to miss if you’re not keeping an EYE on your four-legged companion. We have a lot of customers who say, “If I had only known earlier,” when they find out about a condition or injury.

Regularly check your dog’s eyes, ears, paws, nails, and body. If you see something different or something that has changed, take note and keep track of it. The more information and awareness you have from the start, the better your vet might be able to treat an injury or symptom. Also, ask your vet to examine your dog’s eyes during annual checkups or if you suspect something is wrong. Nobody knows your dog as well as you do—trust your instinct if you feel something is off.

MWDTSA is grateful for Rex Specs’ ongoing support of our nation’s military working dogs. We thank you, our readers, for supporting this year’s Rex Specs drive. These goggles protect MWDs’ eyes from harsh elements, so they can work more comfortably and safely. Let’s set a record and send a spectacular number of Rex Specs to these intrepid four-legged service members. Here’s how.

Fort Huachuca: kennel visit recap

This photo shows a Fort Huachuca kennel sign that lists military working dogs who have crossed the rainbow bridge.
With this prominent sign, Fort Huachuca honors military working dogs that have crossed the rainbow bridge. (Photos by Linda Costa-Bryan)

Don’t mess with a military working dog. A rabid raccoon learned this the hard way when it ventured into a kennel at Fort Huachuca. The dog quickly dispatched the invader and thankfully did not contract rabies. The incursion, however, led to the installation of sturdy red iron gates to deter wild critters from entering.

MWDTSA heard this and other stories during a recent visit to Fort Huachuca. Our nonprofit travels to stateside kennels to provide moral support and say thanks to military working dog teams. These handlers and dogs work tirelessly in a variety of roles, including explosives detection, drug detection, and patrol. They face challenges ranging from extreme weather to snakes (including one killed in the area that morning).

This photo shows the Fort Huachuca handlers and MWDTSA volunteer Linda Costa-Bryan standing behind a picnic table loaded with MWDTSA gifts, including backpacks, FIFTY/FIFTY bottles, t-shirts, and more.
Fort Huachuca handlers and MWDTSA volunteer Linda Costa-Bryan stand with MWDTSA kennel gifts. Pictured left to right (back row): SSG Razo, SSG Andrews, SPC Fletcher, and PFC Jackson. Front row: SPC Harmon, SFC Peppersack, and Costa-Bryan.

MWDTSA volunteers Linda Costa-Bryan, Scott Bryan and Bill Cummings arrived at the base with breakfast and gifts. Donors’ generous financial contributions made all of this possible. Handlers enjoyed coffee, juice, fruit, assorted pasties, and donuts. Volunteers presented a new coffee maker and bags of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Handlers received MWDTSA t-shirts, blender bottles for protein drinks, MWDTSA patches, and Fifty/Fifty bottles.

For the dogs, MWDTSA delivered KONG Classics, KONG Squeezz sticks, dog bandanas, collapsible dog bowls, and Planet Dog Orbee footballs. Thanks to the steadfast support of Planet Dog, each MWD also received a Planet Dog Orbee baseball. These toys are perennial favorites among MWDs! KennelSol graciously provided a bottle of kennel disinfectant for this visit.

Part of Arizona history

While MWDTSA’s main goal is celebrating the handlers and their four-legged comrades, our volunteers also learn a great deal about training, local challenges, deployments, and military history. A kennel visit typically includes skill demonstrations and a facilities tour, along with a chance for Q&A.

Our volunteers learned the Army originally established Camp Huachuca in 1877 to “offer protection to settlers and travel routes in southeastern Arizona.”1 It was re-designated as a fort in 1882.

Swapping stories

MWDTSA volunteer Cummings of Marana, Arizona served as a USAF Vietnam-era Sentry Dog Handler. He and the Fort Huachuca handlers discussed how dogs’ roles in the military have shifted over time as missions have changed. “Today’s dogs do so much more,” he noted.

This photo shows MWD Roxie, mid-jump, jaw clamped on the arm of PFC Jackson's bite suit.
PFC Jackson and MWD Roxie perform a training demonstration for MWDTSA volunteers.

Linda Costa-Bryan remarked that she had never seen artificial turf in a kennel training yard. This led to a discussion of the hot climate. Fort Huachuca handlers work with their dogs early in the morning, because the sunbaked terrain can scorch a dog’s paws in the afternoon heat.

Anyone who has visited a military kennel can attest to the wisdom of ear protection. When visitors enter, the whole kennel often erupts in a cacophony of ferocious barking. Cinderblock walls and cement floors amplify the volume. So, MWDTSA volunteers were surprised at the (relative) quiet of Fort Huachuca’s kennel. “That’s because we just fed the dogs,” explained SFC Mathew Peppersack.

During the visit, two handlers mentioned they had received MWDTSA care packages during previous deployments. Both had been surprised to get boxes and said it felt nice to be remembered while in a combat zone, away from their friends and family.

MWDTSA thanks you, our generous donors, for making these care packages and stateside kennel visits possible. We are grateful for your support!

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It takes a village to fill our quarterly care packages and fund our stateside kennel visits. To learn how you can help, visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/. Thank you!

1. http://huachuca-www.army.mil/pages/history.html

K9s For Warriors: Aiding re-entry to civilian life

This photo shows four K9s For Warriors service dogs walking on-leash with their two-legged buddies during a training activity.
The Military Working Dog Team Support Association (MWDTSA) supports current and former military dog handlers in a variety of ways—including pointing them to healing resources such as K9s For Warriors. Above: Public access classes take warriors out in public with their dogs—to Costco, to the Jacksonville Zoo, to downtown St. Augustine, or a restaurant. (Photo courtesy of https://www.k9sforwarriors.org/)

by Bridget Cassidy and Scott Smith

The nonprofit K9s For Warriors has been pairing rescue dogs with traumatized soldiers since 2011. These service dogs perform tasks to quiet the symptoms of war trauma.

“The skillsets our dogs learn help these warriors with anxiety, isolation, depression, and nightmares, so they can function again in public.” says Shari Duval, the organization’s founder. “These dogs are prescriptions on four legs.”

The PTSD epidemic

According to a recent Rand Corporation report, 2.77 million service members have served on 5.4 million deployments since 9/11. Around 225,000 Army soldiers have deployed three times or more.

The Department of Defense reports approximately 173,000 active-duty service members received PTSD diagnoses in the military health system between 2000 and September 2017. Eighty percent of these diagnoses followed deployments of 30 days or more.

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental condition that can develop after a person experiences a severe traumatic event such as warfare or sexual assault. Symptoms can include depression, night terrors, social embarrassment resulting in isolation, and more. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that it is common to have upsetting memories, increased anxiety, or trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. However, if these reactions persist or worsen, an individual may have PTSD requiring medical care.

Traditional treatments with medications and talk therapy help some soldiers but not all. A recent Purdue University study found that PTSD symptoms were significantly lower in veterans with service dogs.

National Institutes of Health is funding a large-scale study on the efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment of PTSD symptoms in military members and veterans. The results will be available in 2019.

Solving two challenges

Rather than tackling just one challenge—providing support for soldiers with PTSD—K9s For Warriors is addressing a second crisis, too. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 670,000 dogs are euthanized each year in the United States.

K9s for Warriors is rescuing these shelter animals, providing extensive training, and matching them with soldiers who are seeking support. It takes K9s For Warriors six months to train a dog. They currently train a total of 120 dogs per year. They rescue most breeds except full-bred Pitbulls, Dobermans, Chow Chows, Rottweilers, or Dalmatians due to insurance restrictions or state sanctions.

“K9s For Warriors sees two battles: fighting the past of the dog and fighting the past of the warrior. We’re saving two lives here,” says Brett Simon, war veteran with PTSD, former K9 police officer, and founder Shari Duval’s son.

PAWS Act of 2017

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members Act of 2017 got the VA on board with service dogs helping veterans. According to Congress.gov, “this bill directs the VA to carry out a five-year pilot program under which it provides grants to eligible nonprofit organizations to provide service dogs to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after completing other evidence-based treatment.”

The K9s For Warriors program trains rescue or shelter dogs to perform four specific tasks: averting panic attacks, waking warriors from nightmares, creating personal space comfort zones in public situations by standing in front of the veteran (barrier), and reminding warriors to take their medications.

Dogs also learn two other commands: brace and cover. Many warriors suffer physical disabilities, too. So, the brace command prepares the dog to assist the warrior with standing, sitting or kneeling. The cover command is used to cover the warrior’s back.

Many soldiers with PTSD do not like people coming up from behind them. In the field, soldiers say to one another, “I got your back” or “I got your 6.” The cover command does just that. The service dog literally becomes the warrior’s sixth sense, by sitting and facing the opposite way the warrior is facing. When someone approaches from behind, the dog wags its tail.

 

Tiffany Baker kneels with her service dog Buddy. K9s for Warriors paired Baker and Buddy, and this heart-warming photo shows the bond between them.
K9s for Warriors paired Tiffany Baker and service dog Buddy. Baker, an Army National Guard soldier, received significant injuries in an IED explosion while deployed in Afghanistan. Before being rescued, Buddy was found tied to a tree without any food or water. (Photo courtesy of https://www.consumersadvocate.org/)

Overcoming isolation

According to Moira Smith of the ASPCA, service animals can also boost the handler’s social and emotional life. They provide safety and autonomy in public. “The dog acts as a bridge for social interaction,” says Smith. She explains that most Americans can’t relate to war experiences. However, they are familiar with taking care of a dog as a pet. “It also adds another dimension to their identity.”

As of October 2018, the K9s For Warriors program has rescued 940 dogs and 489 military service members, with an astounding 99% program success rate.

To learn more about K9s For Warriors, ongoing research, and stories of soldiers and their dogs, check out this recent full-length article.

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Soldier, take me from this shelter’s cage.
Give me back my life. In return, I’ll cover your back.
I’ll be your canine warrior, your sixth sense.
I’ll stand guard into the night and chase the demons away,
the uninvited, cloaked in night sweats and darkness.

I will help you open your cage of solitude
then walk tall by your side into the light of day.
Together, our faith will rise as tall as your soldier’s pride.
We are now family in this post-911 world.
Because together, we stand.

—Bridget Cassidy

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs’ noses, key to security, detect explosives in Afghanistan

A Belgian Malinois awaits the next command at a competition to test dogs' noses. The event took place in September at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

This K9 awaits the next command at a competition to test dogs’ noses and obedience. The event took place in September at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Video image by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan—These dogs’ noses save lives.

But aside from an ultra-sensitive nose, the dogs must have traits of absolute obedience, discipline and loyalty. And more smarts than can be imagined, along with the power to take down an adversary if necessary.

These are only some of the qualities the dogs here must possess in order for them to assist in the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

“All the dogs have to be certified,” says Sergeant First Class Christopher Ogle, theater military working dog program manager, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Combined Joint Task Force 36. “I certify the contract dogs in theater to make sure they’re able to do their job.”

The breeds of the dogs at the kennel complex are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. While Shepherds are more muscular, the Malinois does not lack for strength. Both are ideally suited for security purposes.

The dog teams—consisting of handler and dog—provide direct counter to Improvised Explosive Devices, the enemy’s weapon of choice.

Detection improves mission effectiveness and reduces IED-related casualties. A dog’s nose is the key to sniffing out bombs inside and outside the wire, Ogle said.

“There’s no machine built yet that can duplicate what a dog can do.”

“There’s no substitute for the detection of a dog,” says William Cronin, director for American K9 for Afghanistan and Mali, West Africa.

Cronin has been in his position for five years working out of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. He was at Bagram Airfield to see some of his dogs carry out their skills in a two-day K9 competition in mid-September.

The company’s headquarters is in Moyock, North Carolina, and part of a bigger organization, Constellis. That company is a leading provider in risk management and operational support services to government and commercial customers, according to its website.

“We keep people safe,” Cronin said of AMK9. “We make the world a safer place. There’s a lot of passion in the guys that do this type of work.”

AMK9 has more than 25 years of experience in training and staffing highly qualified detection dogs and handlers with the ultimate goal of quickly implementing and sustaining K9 operations in high-threat, complex locations worldwide, the website stated. And, AMK9 has been working with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2004.

The dogs are of the highest quality with proven working dog bloodlines from European sources. In fact, less than 10 percent of the dogs screened will pass the initial evaluation and be approved for training at AMK9 facilities, according to the organization’s website.

Two-day K9 competition tests dogs’ noses and obedience

Ogle explained the competition was to build morale, sharpen the dogs’ skills, and enable better dog teams.

“This actually sharpens their skills because these teams have been preparing for a month and a half to get ready for this competition,” Ogle said.

The first day tested the teams on explosives detection. The dogs had to find two explosives placed on a possible 10 vehicles with distractors such as foods like bacon and sausage. In this timed event, most dogs averaged about two minutes to find explosives, Ogle said.

“The dog can locate it (explosives) outside the vehicle and tell you there’s something wrong. Some of the dogs can hit it up from 50 feet away,” Ogle said. “Therefore, you’re not putting people in harm’s way. The dog can go up and search the object, take the Soldier out of the aspect, reducing the risk of the handler getting hurt.”

The second day tested obedience. Situations were created to see how obedient the dog was to his handler regardless of what was going on, i.e., a man in a padded suit trying to get the dog’s attention resulting in an attack.

Top honors

In the end, handler Frank Musoli and his partner, Tina, took the most honors with the top Overall Dog Team and also received a second place in the Detection category and third in the Obedience/Controlled Aggression Category.

Dog handler Frank Musoli holds prizes from the K9 competition.
Dog handler Frank Musoli of Kampala, Uganda has 10 years’ combined experience as a dog handler in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Video image by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

Musoli is from Kampala, Uganda, and has been a dog handler serving in Iraq for five years and now in Afghanistan for five years.

“We are a team. Me and my dog are a team. So, we work hard,” Musoli said.

Asked what he thought of having a non-computer job while helping to save lives, Musoli said he recognizes how vital such a job is to the mission in Afghanistan.

“It doesn’t mean I’m only here for money. I’m here to support the U.S. Army … we are in it for peace. We make sure our people in the FOB (Forward Operating Base), stay alive,” Musoli said.

“I make sure when I’m out there at the checkpoint, I make sure I focus on what took me there. I make sure people’s lives—the generals, colonels, other guys and civilians—are safe,” he said.

So, between man and dog, IEDs do have an enemy.

“The dogs are the best resource out there that units can employ to make their units safer,” Ogle said. “The dogs detect stuff … explosives.”

Cronin put it another way: When “you go into your grandmother’s kitchen, you smell stew. The dog goes in your grandmother’s kitchen, he smells carrots, pepper, tomatoes and lettuce. I mean he smells all the ingredients.”

This article and a slide show originally appeared here. Many thanks to author Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs, for inviting MWDTSA to repost.

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MWDTSA sends quarterly care packages to military working dog teams (dog plus handler) deployed in global combat zones. We are currently collecting items for our Q4-2018 boxes, which will ship on December 1. You can contribute by visiting MWDTSA’s Amazon Wish List. It’s a quick, easy way to say thank you to these intrepid teams.

Fort Campbell and friends: kennel visit recap

This photo shows a young Fort Campbell dog handler with his dog on leash.
During a recent MWDTSA visit to Fort Campbell, this young team provided a great demo on the obstacle course.

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

Three cars, arriving separately, ferreted out the correct Fort Campbell gate. This was no small feat, given the base spans over 100,000 acres, straddling the Tennessee/Kentucky border. This expansive base has a big mission: “Fort Campbell sets the standard for integrating and delivering installation services and base support to ensure readiness, empower resiliency, and enable our soldiers, families, civilians, retirees, and community partners to remain…..unmatched!”

Old friends in new places

We coordinated the event with the Kennel Master (KM), a friend whom MWDTSA supported on his last deployment to Afghanistan as a dog handler. He no longer holds the end of a leash but, in his role of Kennel Master, embraced plans for our first Fort Campbell visit. The Army, however, stirred the pot and just days before our arrival, promoted him to a new assignment and installed a new KM, SSG IaFelice. Fortunately, SSG IaFelice hit the ground running and our plans never wavered. It was especially reassuring to know that two other aces-in-the-hole, SSG Vaughan, a wonderful friend from a previous base visit to Fort Jackson and SSG Espinosa, a previous Fort Benning handler, hustled behind the scenes to ready the kennels for our visit.

The Fort Campbell bench is deep

MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman stands with some of the Fort Campbell dog handlers.

Fort Campbell has a large kennel. In sports terminology, the bench is deep. After introductions, SSG IaFelice invited us to walk through the facility. Handlers stood beside their dogs’ enclosure doors. Our volunteers and guests were able to interact individually with each team. This allowed people to have more detailed and focused conversations while asking in-depth questions. These meet-and-greets allowed the handlers a moment to brag about their dogs.

This photo shows a Fort Campbell handler in a bite suit with a dog clamped on to his sleeve. A young female trainee observes.
Seasoned veteran SSG Vaughn, in his role as a trainer, catches a young dog. Sharing his expert feedback will help the new handler determine how to adjust her training to ensure that she and her dog will become an excellent team.

The levels of experience in this kennel guarantee that newer handlers and dogs have dedicated K9 professionals to lead, teach, and mold their younger comrades into polished, certified teams. Some of them recently graduated from dog school, which means that MWDTSA guests witnessed a variety of skill levels both in handlers and in their dogs. It was inspirational to see the transfer of experience and knowledge during the demonstration exercises.

Pizza and presentations

Four MWDTSA volunteers attended, along with some additional guests, including Ruth and Robert Conroy of the Betsy Ross Foundation. This foundation sends substantial support to our dog teams via MWDTSA. In their honor, we gifted the kennel at Fort Campbell with a small office Keurig machine. In a breathtaking coincidence, the flag flown on MWDTSA’s behalf as a thank you gift and presented to the Betsy Ross Foundation several years ago was originally flown for us by SSG Espinosa. A joyful smile spread across Ruth’s face when she met him.

This photo shows Ruth and Robert Conroy from the Betsy Ross Foundation, with Jay Espinosa standing in the center.
Ruth and Robert Conroy from the Betsy Ross Foundation flank their dogman, Jay Espinosa.

MWDTSA never attends a base visit empty-handed. We brought KONGs and Chuck-It Balls for the dogs. For the handlers, we provided T-shirts, water bottles, and a gigantic decorated tub filled to the brim with tasty treats. The wonderful folks from the Betsy Ross Foundation also gifted a bottle of savory Allegro Marinade to all attendees. (Shout out to Allegro: We have switched marinade allegiance. Best. Marinade. Ever.) Additionally, MWDTSA provided a lunch of salad, Luigi’s pizza, drinks, and one of our guests brought a beautifully decorated MWDTSA cake.

This photo shows the sheet cake that MWDTSA provided as a dessert to Fort Campbell handlers.
A great MWDTSA cake followed the pizza luncheon as a sweet surprise.

A memorable base visit for so many reasons

As MWDTSA volunteers, we spend much of our time working independently from our homes scattered across the country. While that gives us a wide swath of reach, it also means our volunteers often work diligently with people they’ve never personally met. It was my absolute honor to meet volunteers Shelli and Randel from Nevada for the first time. They embody dedication, capability, and honor. I also treasure the personal introduction to Ruth and Robert, the fine folks behind the Betsy Ross Foundation. And, as always, the young men and women who work with our amazing military working dogs remain focused and fabulous.

What a phenomenal experience for us all, thanks to the military working dog teams at Fort Campbell!

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MWDTSA thanks its generous donors for making stateside kennel visits possible. To learn more about how you can support our nation’s military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/.