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

 

 

 

 

 

KONGs for K9s: How pet stores and veterinary clinics can take part

This image features the KONGs for K9s logo, MWDTSA logo, and the two KONG toys that participating retailers are collecting in this year's drive. One is a KONG Extreme Tire. The other is a throw-tug toy.

The annual KONGs for K9s drive kicked off on August 1 and will continue through December 31, 2018. It’s a collaboration between MWDTSA and KONG Company. The matching program helps us provide KONG toys to military working dog teams deployed in global combat zones.

Here’s how the KONGs for K9s program works…

Participation is easy:

  1. Pet stores, clinics, and other dog-loving enterprises pick a month or more to take part. You collect one or both of the specific KONG toys shown in the photo above: https://www.kongcompany.com/products/for-dogs/rubber-toys/extreme-rubber-toys/kong-tires/ and/or https://www.kongcompany.com/products/for-dogs/rubber-toys/interactive-rubber-toys/tails/.
  2. MWDTSA will provide you with posters for your store, describing the initiative.
  3. You order in a supply of the toy and create a display to draw customers’ attention to the matching program. Some retailers place the display by the register and ask every customer, “Would you like to donate a KONG to a military working dog deployed in a global combat zone?” This active approach often results in more donations.
  4. Your patrons purchase the KONGs at regular retail price (or whatever price you set) and leave them with you at the register. Some stores set up visible donation bins so that customers can see the number of donated toys. Other stores tuck the donated KONGs in a back room.
  5. At the end of the drive, MWDTSA will pick up the donated KONGs from your store, if we have a volunteer in your local area. If we don’t have a volunteer near your store, we will provide shipping instructions on how to get them to us.

Once we receive your toys, we document the quantity and notify KONG. For each toy donated by your customers, KONG is matching with a second toy.

Calling all dog-loving businesses

There’s still time to sign up for 2018. Just contact president@MWDTSA.org if you’d like to take part. Indicate the name and address of your organization. Also, specify which month works best for your KONG donation drive, and which toy above you’d like to collect. We will get the posters to you right away.

While most KONGs for K9s participants are pet-related businesses, that’s not a requirement. In 2017, our largest KONG total came from Veterans United Craft Brewery. We also received KONGS from CrossFit Invasion, a fitness studio in New York!

Thanks for your interest and support!

You rock, MWDTSA Q2 corporate sponsors!

Photo of deployed military working dog next to care package contents from corporate sponsors.

MWDTSA could not send quarterly care packages to military working dog teams without the help of generous corporate sponsors and donors. Our Q2 boxes, which arrived in time for Independence Day, contained goodies from the 29 organizations listed at the end of this post, many of them veteran-owned. Please visit their web sites and explore their products.

We also extend a heartfelt thanks to the dozens of individual donors and Amazon Wish List participants, whose contributions rounded out each box. We are grateful for your support!

If pictures are worth a thousand words, tail wags are worth 10,000. We hope you enjoy these photos, submitted by Q2 care package recipients…

Q2 photo gallery

MWD is laying on a cot, wearing his handler's hat and posing with care package contents.Malinois looks up at the camera, sitting in front of a chair where care package contents are displayed.

MWD with expressive eyes and one ear flopped forward sits on the floor next to care package contents.Care package contents line a kitchen counter. MWD sits on the floor in front of the counter staring intently at the camera.

Care package contents sit on a sand bag in the foreground. Three handlers and their MWDs stand in the background modeling the 'Merica-themed MWDTSA t-shirts and MWDTSA athletic shorts that were included in the Q2-2019 care packages.
Each care package contained a t-shirt and athletic shorts for the handler, but in this photo, a military working dog is modeling the t-shirt and shorts. Hilarious!

An MWD sits alert on the floor next to a handler's bed. On the bed, care package contents are carefully laid out in front of the box they arrived in.

 

Q2 corporate sponsors and donors

 

For more information on how you can become a MWDTSA corporate sponsor or donor, email president@mwdtsa.org. Thank you for your interest in our mission!

 

Q2-2018 boxes timed for Independence Day

Cartoon drawing for Q2-2018 of Frank the Freedom Eagle and Merica the Mal.

On June 16, 27 volunteers met at Mills Park, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, to assemble MWDTSA’s Q2-2018 boxes. Led by MWDTSA volunteer Jesca Daniels and Steel MMA & Fitness, the packing team also included representatives from three other groups. Faith, Kailin and Ashley helped on behalf of Pinups For Vets. As well, handlers and family members from MCAS Miramar and 32nd Street Naval Base joined the effort. The group packed 200 12”x12”x 5” USPS flat-rate cartons for military working dog teams in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

In this photo, 27 Q2-2018 packing volunteers pose with the MWDTSA banner.

Photos by Honey Wasden Photography and Heather Shough Photography

“When I volunteered to coordinate the Q2-2018 packing event, I knew I wanted a theme related to Independence Day,” recalls Jesca. “I also wanted to make it fun, giving handlers a bit of a celebration in a box.”

“Each year at our July 4th celebration, folks shout ‘Merica 726,383 times,” quips Jesca. That might be a slight exaggeration, but the tradition inspired the humorous Q2 graphic design. Jesca painstakingly penned Frank the Freedom Eagle and Merica the Mal, with the goal of showing cause, pride, and humor.

 

This photo shows the t-shirt, athletic shorts, and baseball cap included in every Q2-2018 care package.
Marvin Madariaga incorporated Jesca’s illustration into a rock-star t-shirt design. This care package also included athletic shorts and a baseball cap for each handler.
A close-up photo of the FIFTY/FIFTY brand water bottle included in every care package.
MWDTSA volunteer Jenny Gan adapted the drawing into a graphic for the FIFTY/FIFTY bottle.

 

 

 

 

The majority of Q2-2018 care package contents came from veteran-owned businesses.

“It is cool to be able to promote veterans while also supporting active duty handlers,” says Jesca. “My goal was to include items that every handler would want and be able to use. I am confident that MWDTSA succeeded on that front.”

Logistics for MWDTSA care packing events vary from location to location. In this case, the United States Postal Service could not drive onsite for the packing event, due to base security. So, Jesca’s team rented a U-Haul to bring supplies to the park and later take the completed packages to the Post Office.

“It has been an absolute honor to be able to put this together for the deployed handlers,” notes Jesca. “The MWD community is my family and I am so grateful to be able to do this to show them how much they mean to all of us.”

Photo of volunteers packing boxes.

Photo shows contents of two 12"x12"x5" flat-rate boxes.
From Rex Specs to protect Special Operations dogs from rotor wash and desert sandstorms to collapsible bowls to keep MWDs hydrated, care packages include both practical items and treats for handlers and their four-legged comrades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteers prepare an assembly line to facilitate packing 200 boxes.
Volunteers arranged product cartons on picnic tables to facilitate a care package assembly line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For information on how you can support MWDTSA’s quarterly care packages, see https://mwdtsa.org/donate/.

Enter the Wine & Wags raffle to support MWDTSA

This photo shows gift baskets of MWDTSA and Luck Dog Shampoo merchandise for the raffle.

Wine country road trip! Please join us on June 3, 2018 at Page Mill Winery in Livermore, CA and bring your four-legged sidekick. Look for the booth selling Luck Dog Shampoo by Thomas K Organics, and you’ll find three easy ways to support MWDTSA:

  1. Stock up on dog shampoo. Thomas K Organics is donating 10% of each sale to MWDTSA.
  2. Buy a raffle ticket for one of four Thomas K Organics/MWDTSA gift baskets. All—yes, 100%!—of the raffle proceeds will go to MWDTSA.
  3. Purchase a $100 Wine & Wags raffle ticket for a chance to win a European cruise worth over $7,000 (or one of the other clever prizes, such as a wine barrel dog house). For every raffle ticket purchased through Thomas K Organics or MWDTSA, MWDTSA will receive a $50 donation.

Video courtesy of Livermore Valley Wine Growers Association.

Map and details

LVWGA writes, “Wine & Wags has an admission fee of $30 online ($35 day of the event). This includes entrance to the participating wineries, at least two tastes at each winery, a commemorative Livermore Valley Wine Country GoVino glass, and special event activities.”

Check out the event map to learn more.

You can pay the admission fee online before you arrive.

To support MWDTSA, visit Page Mill Winery, Luck Dog Shampoo booth, to purchase raffle tickets.

If you are not able to attend the event but want to enter the cruise raffle in support of MWDTSA, please email president@MWDTSA.org with your contact information.

MWDTSA thanks Page Mill Winery, LVWGA, and Thomas K Organics for your support!

Memorial Day: Remembering the ultimate sacrifice

Handler and military working dog stand before MWD memorial on Guam.
For Memorial Day: “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

At church this morning, the pastor said, “Stand up and say Happy Memorial Day to the people around you.” I bristled, and my mind traveled 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.

Mayport Moments

This photo shows Retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe with MWD Rex.
Above: Officer Millie Canipe poses with her long-time partner Rex at Naval Station Mayport. Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes work. These two are awesome.

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

Base pass in hand, security waved us through the Visitor’s Gate and aboard Naval Station Mayport. Large boxes and bags neatly stacked behind the driver’s seat busted at the seams with goodies for the military working dog teams at Mayport kennels. Naval Station Mayport is one of three major Navy installations in the greater Jacksonville, Florida area. It’s home to the 4th Fleet, helicopter training squadrons, and some of the most polished military working dogs in the Navy’s command.

In addition to the warm greeting from Kennel Master MA1 Roberto Aguilar, the Atlantic Ocean breeze welcomed us as we drove onto the base. It was just after 9:00 AM, and the temperature was rising nicely under a clear, sunny sky in north Florida. We were headed for a Navy kennel visit. Could this day really get much better?

Surprise, surprise!!

Photo shows fence separating Naval Base Mayport waterfront from civilian beach.
The beach here is wide and lovely. The fence line separates the base beach from the public beach. Northern Florida has some wonderful waterfront and parks to explore. Mayport is a stunning base, and we were delighted to share a few hours with the great teams here.

As we rounded the corner into a base housing neighborhood, we followed the Kennel Master’s truck. It turned into a stubby driveway in front of a low-slung pastel Florida house. We exited the van, confused about whose house we were visiting.

Simultaneously, handlers poured out to greet us. Our first surprise? The yellow house with the screened-in porch and breezy carport was actually the kennel office. Equally mind-boggling, the actual dog kennels also blended into the neighborhood, occupying a similar home in the same cul-de-sac. At most bases, a large kennel yard sits next to the kennel. Not here. At Mayport, handlers take their partners to various base parks where they train.

To my absolute delight, I found a second big surprise. The “civilian contract handler” included in my planning numbers was, in fact, retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe. Millie and I first met at a huge Fort Benning Vietnam Dog Handler event that I coordinated back in the spring of 2004. In 2005, even before MWDTSA became a thought, four friends and I visited the spotless kennels at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base near St. Mary’s, Georgia, where Millie served as Kennel Master.

Reflecting on Kings Bay

That Kings Bay kennel visit was one of my favorite days ever, tucked into a special spot in my heart. Her kennel was filled with gorgeous and very social German shepherd dogs who excelled in their work. In fact, MWDTSA’s first ever hero dog, Rex D012, hailed from the Kings Bay kennel. Millie’s enthusiasm and wonderful handlers impacted MWDTSA and my life immensely. How many people can say they’ve been on a nuclear submarine, successfully negotiated a Navy shooting simulator, and had an opportunity to meet the Commanding Officer in charge of the East Coast’s nuclear fleet?

In addition to Millie, there were three other teams available at Mayport that day with dogs trained in explosives, patrol, and narcotics. Millie dashed off to get her partner, another dog named Rex, who at 11 was the oldest dog in the kennel. Rex and Millie have been together since 2010. That length of partnership is unusual for active duty personnel as they change locations more frequently, but their civilian counterparts can add stability with a more permanent placement.

Presents for all

Three handlers show off their new San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee. Left to right: MASN Noonan, MA2 Stanley, and MA1 Aguilar.

After Rex arrived, we began opening up the goodies that MWDTSA had brought to share with him. Rex enthusiastically grabbed his KONG toy to chase and chew, but showed little interest in the dog thermometer. It monitors his core body temperature to help keep him safe while working in the heat of the Florida sun, but much less fun on his end.

MWDTSA also presented T-shirts, patches, and coffee mugs to the handlers. The San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee was immediately pressed into use in the kennel’s well-worn coffee maker. Soon, scrumptious coffee smells wafted throughout the small kitchen area. It’s always good to keep our protectors caffeinated, and San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee has proven to be a steadfast partner.

Meeting the Mayport teams

Photo shows MASN Noonan and his handsome partner, MWD Mirko.
MASN Noonan kneels with MWD Mirko.
Photo shows MA2 Stanley and MWD Mio.
MA2 Stanley with MWD Mio.

Next in for a meet and greet, uber-handsome MWD Mirko and his partner, MASN Patrick Noonan, visited and posed for some splendid photos. Mirko, an 8-year-old rich dark German shepherd dog, has a confident smile and stunning face. A dual-purpose dog, he spends part of his days patrolling from the back of a squad car and the other part using his nose to find bad things.

Also dual-trained, our next visitor Mio is strong and agile. Five-and-a-half-year-old Mio, a deep black and red German shepherd, exudes a serious demeanor. He and his partner, MA2 Jacob Stanley, posed for our camera. Instead of strutting his stuff, Mio hinted he had little time for nonsense and wanted to get back to work. He let his guard down long enough to smile for the camera, but he returned to full focus moments later.

“Painting” and wordplay

Photo shows MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman receiving love from MWD Sindy.
Sindy with MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman.
This photo shows Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar with MWD Sindy.
Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar serves as Sindy’s handler.

Sindy, the youngster of the crowd at 3.5 years of age, has a wonky ear and loves to find explosives. She buried her face into my husband’s stomach, enjoying some extra scratches and loving. We joked about taking her home with us. They teased in return about letting us! Apparently this dark German shepherd beauty is a “painter,” which means that she’s adept at slinging poo artfully around the kennel walls.

One of the handlers unavailable that day was MA2 Cameron Ruff. We wondered if his last name helped his cause when he asked to become a dog handler or if it made it “ruff-er.” His comrades shared some good-natured banter about his incredibly à propos moniker.

We also enjoyed reconnecting with Divisional Officer Stull, who had been a handler at Kings Bay the last two times we met and was instrumental in setting up this base visit.

The Tour-de-Mayport

Mayport has immediate access to deep water and is home to the 4th fleet. The first stop on the tour was the pristine sandy beach that is available to personnel based at Mayport. Because it was early in the day and during work hours, only a few folks were out walking the beach. Driving on to the shipyards gave us ample opportunity to see a variety of ships in port, including our first littoral combat ships, which were developed for combat in shallower waters closer to the coast.

Photo shows helicopter training in the clear blue skies above Naval Station Mayport.
Helicopter takeoffs and landings are common sights near Mayport, as the base hosts several helicopter training squadrons.

Helicopter training squadrons bunk here, as well, allowing young Navy pilots an opportunity to learn the skills to meet Naval Station Mayport’s mission of sustaining and enhancing war-fighter readiness.

As we looked out through the majestic oaks standing sentinel over the adjacent golf course, we ended our day with delicious burgers from Bogey’s restaurant. We enjoyed our last moments over the lunch table with the great teams from Mayport. We appreciate their generous hospitality, unending smiles, and partnerships with some of America’s greatest military working dogs.

Many thanks to the MWDTSA donors who made this base visit possible. To learn how you can support our nation’s military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

Camp Hale dog #1?

Coloring page shows St. Bernard dog with snowy mountain background. Dog is wearing a flask around his neck.
Illustration by Chris Tomlin; reprinted with permission of HarperCollins UK. HarperCollins UK kindly allowed MWDTSA to print a black and white version of this coloring page for use in elementary school visits. Check out Tomlin’s amazing coloring book: Art for Mindfulness DOGS.

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Many thanks to Keli Schmid, Archivist and Librarian, 10th Mountain Division Resource Center, Denver Public Library, for sharing a treasure trove of World War II material with MWDTSA. Our favorite find? A 1943 newspaper piece with a dog’s eye view of Camp Hale. We included a copy of this story in each Q1-2018 care package…

It Took Bourbon to Bring Out Man’s Love for Canine—Bruno the Pup Finds

Story by Francis Taylor Patterson

Source: Camp Hale Ski-Zette (Pando, CO), 21 April 1943. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. CO State Library.

Dear Pups,

I can just see you frisking around and barking, Goody! A letter from Puppa from Pando! Well, Woof, Woof, here I am, safe and sound in the Rockies.

It was quite a trip. The train mushed up through the Royal Gorge and Salida and Cañon City. Some of the curves were so sharp the train could almost bite its tail. The scenery reminds me of the Alps that your grandfather is always talking about. I never saw an Alp, but I don’t think they could be much higher than these Rockies.

We’re on the top of the world, two miles straight up in the air. It keeps snowing all the time. They say there’s twenty feet of snow in this place, but I don’t know; when there gets to be twenty feet of it in a place, there isn’t any place. Icicles hang from the roofs to the company street, taller than men. And is it cold? Below zero!

First thing when I got here, I went over to Headquarters to make out a questionnaire.

It went something like this:

Name: Bruno St. Bernard

Age: Under 21

Color: White and Brown

Eyes: Drooping

Occupation: Rescue Work

This is a mountain artillery outfit and they have a lot of mules, but I never cared much for mules. Even from a distance they smell, and close up they kick. This bunch are guaranteed to kick from any angle and at any range. And they do. They can go up the mountain trails where the jeeps can’t, but I can go up where the mules can’t, on account of us being Alpine stock.

The first night, they put me in a pup tent. Can you imagine? Me! In the morning, I forgot where I was when I woke up. I stretched, and the whole tent came down on top of me. A rookie was going down the company street and I ran after him to help me out, but he gave one look . . . and ran faster. Tonight they’re going to put me some place else. Maybe in the dog house. That’s a place I keep hearing about, but I haven’t been able to locate it yet.

Somebody’s always in it. I’m all mixed up. They say I’m the first dog here, but the men are always talking about their dogs, their dogs are tired, their dogs hurt them. Still, I didn’t see any dogs.

Once I heard talk of bones. I listened because I don’t know what to do with mine.

The ground is so hard I can’t bury them. But here it seems they roll the bones. They talk about chow. That sounds like a dog and isn’t. Yesterday they had hot dogs for chow. And they say I’m a guinea pig. They’re experimenting, and if I turn out to be useful in the war effort with these ski troops, they’ll train a lot of us. That’s being a guinea pig. There’s a lot to learn about this Army language.

My basic training started today. It was funny. The sergeant said I was to go out and save somebody who was supposed to be lost in the snow. He asked for volunteers to be saved. Well, it was pretty cold, ten below, and nobody cared much about lying around in the snow. But when I came trotting out with a little flask of bourbon tied around my neck, according to the good old Swiss custom, the men began falling down all over the place. They started whistling and calling, “Here, Bruno! Nice doggy! Hey, waiter!”

The sergeant got sore. “Pipe down, you guys,” he barked.

“You’re supposed to be stiffs. You can’t whistle! You’re getting him all balled up. And we’ve got to use this flask every day. You can’t go drinking his basic training on him. Fall out!” Then he patted me and said, “I’ll give you your basic training my own self.”

The men have big white capes with hoods to wear over their uniforms. They call it snow camouflage. It makes them look funny, like big Russian wolfhounds standing on their hind legs. I didn’t get in on that issue. They say I’m snow camouflaged already with my white coat. Only the brown spots have them a little worried.

Well, be good and eat your kennel ration before they start to ration kennel ration. Remember, one of these days you’ll have to do your bite.

Lots of love, Puppa

p.s. I didn’t have to go to the delousing plant. It’s so cold here fleas freeze…tell Mama.

 

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Inspired by Bruno’s tale above, MWDTSA would love to read dog’s eye stories from present-day handlers.

Seventy-five years from now, someone might be reading your piece to glean insights about military life in 2018. To submit a dog’s eye story or poem for MWDTSA’s blog, email Nikki Rohrig (president@mwdtsa.org).

To learn how you can support military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.