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Not every war dog gets one of those wonderful airport reunions with his soldier that has everyone reaching for the tissue box.
Remmy the Dutch Shepherd served four years in Afghanistan, saving countless lives as one of the early dogs trained by the Army to search for improvised explosive devices. He was well-loved by the soldiers in his unit, who knew they could count on him and considered him one of the guys.
After Remmy was injured in a fight with an Afghan dog, he was sent back to the United States for treatment and kept in a Texas kennel after he recovered. He was a contract working dog (CWD), which means he was owned by a private company and leased to the Army. Somewhere along the way, the spelling of his name changed, making it hard for his Army buddies to track him down.
When the nonprofit Mission K9 Rescue got the chance to find Remmy a home, they turned to Doug Davis, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Pam. The couple had just said goodbye to the first military working dog they’d adopted.
Now 13 years old, Remmy has spent the last three and a half years living happily with the Davises in Traverse City, Michigan. “Remmy’s quite a hero,” says Doug Davis, who was a dog handler with the Air Force in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He describes Remmy as "dynamic," and says he's the fastest dog he's ever seen. "Nothing hurts the guy; he’s just tough," Doug says. Pam knows of one thing that does hurt his feelings, though: when they don't share their dinner with him.
When a military working dog (MWD) retires, the service member who worked with him most recently gets first dibs on bringing him home. Ninety percent of the time, dogs go to their former handlers, says MAC Chief Petty Officer Jason Silvis, who works with MWDs at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Many adoptions of MWDs are handled through Lackland, which is a hub for dogs who have served in the field and are retiring because of their age or medical reasons, as well as dogs who don’t make it through training.
But for a variety of reasons, a dog’s handler might not be available to take him. The handler may still be on active duty, for example, or have young children at home, or live in a residence where he can’t keep the dog. In those cases, K9s who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on posts in the United States and other parts of the world, may be put up for civilian adoption.
The dogs are evaluated first to be sure they will make suitable pets.
“Every MWD, when they’re retiring, they do a behavioral test and an adoption test to make sure they’re not going to be food aggressive or bite a small child or chase the mailman down the street,” Silvis says. “We do a wide variety of tests before we decide that the dogs are good to be adopted to the public.”
The dogs who don’t pass, usually because of aggression, may be adopted to law enforcement or TSA officers, or they stay at the base and help with training new MWDs. "We never put a dog down just because we can’t find a home for it," Silvis says.
For the 75 percent of dogs who pass all the tests, Lackland turns to its waitlist of members of the public who are interested in adopting the dogs. There are several requirements for adoptive families:
There are about 200 families on Lackland's waitlist, Silvis says, and five to seven dogs are adopted out each month, including dogs who were in training but didn’t meet standards. “It can go fairly quickly throughout the year,” he says. In many cases, contract working dogs who have served with the military are up for adoption through groups like Mission K9 Rescue. For CWDs like Remmy, it can be more difficult to track down their former handlers than those of MWDs.
Mission K9 also carefully tests dogs to be sure they have the right temperament to live in a home and carefully vets potential adopters.
“The biggest thing we do is make sure the families we adopt [the dogs] out to have the means to take care of them,” says Mission K9 Rescue co-founder Bob Bryant. Adopters have to have 6-foot fences, and they have to sign notarized contracts stating they’ll return the dogs to the group if they can’t keep them for any reason.
The group recently brought 19 CWDs back from Kuwait, and many of them are ready and waiting for homes right now. Several have been approved for families with kids under age 12 and other dogs.
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