Remmy, a 13-year-old Dutch Shepherd, is enjoying is his retirement at the Michigan home of Doug and Pam Davis.
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.

Retiring Hero Dogs

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.

Finding the Right Home

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:

  • A family has to apply and be interviewed by the military to ensure it will provide for the dog and to answer questions about other pets in the home. Some dogs aren’t suited to living with other dogs or with cats.
  • A family usually cannot have young children. Most of the dogs aren’t good fits for families with kids under age 5, “unless we have a very special dog,” Silvis says.
  • A family must be willing to travel to San Antonio to get the dog, because the military doesn’t transport dogs.
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.
Ringo, a military working dog, spent two years with the Davises.

Learning Civilian Life

As the Davises can attest, giving a home to a retired war dog can be both rewarding and challenging.

For Doug Davis, leaving his military dog, Smoke, in 1970 was so emotional that he didn’t get another dog until 2008, when Louisa Kastner, who now works with Mission K9 Rescue, asked if he and his wife would be willing to take Ringo C261, a retired 9-year-old Belgian Malinois who had served in both the Army and Navy.

Almost immediately, the Davises were on their way to Denver to get Ringo, because the woman who’d adopted him was about to have back surgery.

It was an adjustment for the Davises — and for Ringo. “He had to adjust to a home and people and a cat and children,” Pam says.

“We had a rather nervous two to three weeks, and after that he just dialed right in,” Doug says. “We spent lots of time with him and took lots of walks and let him kind of slowly blend into the family.”

He learned to adore their 4-year-old grandson, who was living with them at the time, and eventually made peace with their cat.

Everything was new to Ringo, who would alert if someone came to the door and didn’t know what to do the first time the doorbell rang. “It’s really interesting. He knew nothing about civilian life,” Doug says. “The quickest thing he found out is what the kitchen is.”

Ringo underwent three cancer surgeries in the two years he spent with the Davises. When he died, it was so difficult that the couple didn’t think they could adopt again. But six months later, they brought Remmy home.

"Like Having a Toddler Around"

“Both of these dogs have very outgoing personalities and love being around people,” Doug says. “The word got out that they were military dogs, and Ringo and Remmy must have hundreds of friends.”

Of course, not everything about taking in such a highly trained dog has been easy.

By the time Remmy came along, the Davises had five grandchildren. They discovered the dog would get agitated when the kids were running around. So he’s been kept apart from them, which isn’t easy, because Remmy has to go everywhere with Doug and Pam. “It actually did cost us a lot of time with our grandchildren,” Doug says.

“Once they bond to you, they don’t want you out of their sight,” Pam says. “They get extremely agitated when they don’t know where you are. I refer to it as like having a toddler around. They have to be able to see you.”

But he enjoys going out with them in “Remmy’s van.”
Remmy poses with Army Sgt. Dan Traeder during their time together in Afghanistan in 2004.

Reuniting With a Long-Lost Friend

As it turned out, Remmy’s former handler, retired Army Sgt. Dan Traeder, who served with the canine in Afghanistan in 2004, had never forgotten his favorite dog. He says giving Remmy to another handler was one of the harder things he’s ever had to do, and he often talked with his buddies about where Remmy might have wound up.

Last year, Traeder saw a story in the Elk Rapids News about how the Davises had adopted his partner. He called his former commander, who said, “’Get the boys together!’ He wanted to go steal him. He thought whoever it was [who adopted the dog] couldn’t be worthy enough to have Remmy,” Traeder says.

Traeder, who’s now a firefighter and lives in Chicago with his wife and three children, made contact with Doug and Pam Davis and arranged to meet with them at a halfway point between their homes for a reunion.

And he realized there was no need to kidnap Remmy. The plot is something Doug and Dan laugh about now.

“Doug and I talk quite a bit, and I’ve got kind of a neat friendship with him now. He’s very much like a mentor to me,” says Traeder, who served in the Army for nearly 20 years, with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s happy to know where Remmy is and that he’s being well taken care of by someone Traeder has gotten to know and respect. He gets to see Remmy from time to time and keeps in contact with the Davises.

Their story was featured in Saving Private K9, a documentary for the Sportsman Channel, hosted by R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey.

“Remmy’s such a clown that it’s great to see him in clown mode all the time” now that he’s retired, Traeder says. “Remmy was a tough guy as well — when he was business, he was all business. He’s still healthy and still just a big, goofy dog.”

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