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This photo shows RMWD Aura before her health deteriorated. She is modeling with a FIFTY/FIFTY water bottle, etched with MWDTSA's logo.

This photo shows RMWD Aura before her health deteriorated. She is modeling with a FIFTY/FIFTY water bottle, etched with MWDTSA's logo.RMWD Aura N679 was one of us—a MWDTSA volunteer. She and her humans represented MWDTSA at educational events, a movie premiere, and more. So, her death on February 7, 2020, touched us all. Below are two tributes: the first by her mom Jesca Daniels and the second by Kayla Miller of Negative Image Photography, LLC. RMWD Aura N679, thank you for your service to our nation and to MWDTSA. Rest easy.

From Jesca Daniels

We just said goodbye to Aura and our hearts are broken.

Most of you know that Mark was Aura’s first and only handler in the Marine Corps. She came into our life in 2010. Mark had been a handler for six years at the time, but she was his first Malinois. And boy was she everything a Malinois should be—smart, energetic, loyal, energetic, determined, energetic…did I mention energetic?

She gave him a run for his money, but in the end she made him a better handler. They were a beautiful team to see in action. I first fell in love with her love for him. Little did I know I would go on to fall in love with her love for the girls and me.

An IED blast creates a new family

In 2013, they deployed to Afghanistan. Three months in, I got the call that both of them and six other Marines had been injured in an IED blast. I didn’t know it then, but we gained seven family members that day. I am forever grateful that they all survived, and I love each and every one of them.

Mark rehabilitated and eventually went back to full duty. After months of rehabilitating MWD Aura in-country, she and Mark reunited. In that moment, I knew that one day she would be ours. She already was. A few months later, Aura tore her cruciate ligament and had to have surgery to correct it. After the first surgery, she would go on to tear the other and require more procedures. This ultimately lead to her retirement. It was final; she was coming home.

This photo shows RMWD Aura's military vest, which includes a Guardians of the Night patch.

RMWD Aura sports her tactical vest harness with “Retired Guardians of the Night” patch. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

On May 22, 2015, Aura came home to the girls and me while Mark was serving a year in Japan. I remember being so nervous about how she was going to do without him that I visited her at the kennels every week until it was time for her to come home.

I recall the exact moment she became my dog. I don’t say that to take away from the bond that she and Mark shared. I just mean that by the time she came home, I did not feel like I was taking care of his dog. She was part of the family. RMWD Aura put all of her heart into loving the girls and me, just as she had into loving and protecting her Dad. You guys know what happened next because you have loved us enough to follow her journey these past few years.

Beginning of the end

A little over a year ago, Aura started to not act like herself. It began with licking to a point she would lose control of her bladder, and being a bit off balance. As she progressed, she became unable to open her mouth very well to eat. RMWD Aura lost muscle tone all over her body and eventually was unable to get up or lay down without assistance. She would fall when she walked, and she genuinely seemed frightened of the world around her.

My spunky, energetic Velcro dog got to the point where instead of following me to every room, she would lift her head and sigh, but remain where she was. She lost interest in her KONG, which if you were lucky enough to have met her, you know was a big deal.

It got to the point where we were no longer looking for signs that it was time to let go, but rather we were trying to find a reason not to. After consulting several vets and specialists—and given her diagnoses—we knew that it was time to make the hard choice. RMWD Aura had MMM, DM, masses on her adrenal glands and spleen, and her quality of life was just not there.

The best last day

So, on February 7, 2020, we set out to give her the best last day ever. She had pizza, a donut, and Starbucks, her favorite things, and she got love from all of her people. As hard as it was, it was the best day she has had in a while. I think she knew we were going to let her be at peace.

With her family's help, RMWD Aura consumes one last Starbuck's Puppuccino.

RMWD Aura enjoys a final Starbuck’s Puppuccino. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

She had a bit of her twinkle back, and I think, I hope, she felt covered with love. In the end, we decided we would all be with her. The girls didn’t want to be in the waiting area. They wanted RMWD Aura to know that we were all there, so we were. We all told her how much she was loved, and we held her and loved her until the end. It was one of the hardest moments of all of our lives, but it is a moment I am glad we all shared. We all got that closure, and she had us all there.

This heart-wrenching image shows Mark Daniels giving RMWD Aura a final embrace.

Family members embrace RMWD Aura in her final hour. (Photo by Kayla Miller, Negative Image Photography, LLC)

For the full album, showing RMWD Aura’s best last day, visit: https://www.facebook.com/AuraN679/

Gratitude

There are so many people we need to thank. First and foremost, Mission K9 Rescue. They provided vet care for Aura through all of this. And more than that, they have been a rock in our life as far as friendship and support. If it weren’t for them, we would not have had the time with her we did. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And Negative Image Photography, LLC, for capturing the final moments for us. I honestly didn’t think I wanted pictures, but now I am so grateful that we have them. We will absolutely cherish them forever. Thank you for making yourself available and for being a part of her last day. I know it couldn’t have been easy on you and I will never be able to thank you enough for the gift you gave us.

Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. and Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project: you guys have literally become our family. Our lives are better because you are in them. And to everyone who has loved us, followed us, cheered for us, and cried with us, we are truly grateful for your presence in our life.

And finally, Aura, thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for always loving me and the girls no matter what we went through. Thank you for healing parts of me I didn’t even know were broken. You were the best girl and I hope that we brought you half the joy you gave to us. I love you forever and I will count every star until I see you again… Goodbye Love.

 

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From Kayla Miller

As a photographer, I’m often hired to capture some of the happiest moments in people’s lives. Weddings, births, families playing… you know, LOVE in its happiest form. I’ve never been hired to capture love in its saddest form, until today.

Meet Aura, a retired United States Marine MWD. Aura and her handler (daddy) Mark met in 2010. They instantly shared a bond that all the instructors said was incredible, one of the best teams to ever come through their training.

A bond that heals

In March 2013, they were stationed in Afghanistan together. One day on their way back from patrol, they were both injured in an IED blast. Mark and Aura were thrown from their seats. He sustained a TBI with bleeding and bruising on the brain, along with back and neck injuries. Aura sustained a collapsed lung and heart arrhythmia. She was very anxious and couldn’t sleep.

They took her to the hospital to see Mark before he was flown stateside for medical care. When she saw he was ok, she climbed in his bed and slept for the first time since the accident. Aura had to stay in Afghanistan for treatment until they could have someone fly her back.

Mark’s wife says that finally being able to see Aura again motivated him through his rehabilitation. After he recovered, Mark went on to receive The Purple Heart medal. In 2015, Aura retired and went to live out the rest, best days, of her life with Mark and his family. Most of that time was just with Mark’s wife and daughters as he was deployed again.

They joined in on the bond and loved Aura so deeply. She was loved to the fullest and catered to until the very end. She had the best, last day a US Marine could ever dream of.

Reflections on RMWD Aura N679

Thank you isn’t enough to express my gratitude for your service. RIP Aura N679—End of Watch 2/7/2020.

This has been by far the hardest project I have ever taken on. I can’t say I did it with a smile on my face the whole time because that’s not true. While I did greet Aura and her family with smiles and warm wishes, I am still human and have emotions. It took everything I had in me to stay strong and not break down with them. I wasn’t strong enough and did in fact quietly break down. I become invested in the people whose lives I capture, fully invested. No matter the form of love I capture, just know I feel it, too.

As civilians, we have no idea what our soldiers go through to protect our country, so we can go where we want, when we want…so we can post on Facebook, have the jobs we want and have the things we want. Our soldiers sometimes aren’t always people. They are animals. Willing, able and brave enough to go where man cannot.

God Bless ALL of our soldiers.

This photo shows a retired military working dog who attended a Petco Foundation Helping Heroes fundraising event.

The Petco Foundation is investing $5,000 in MWDTSA’s care package program! This grant will help purchase supplies that can be hard to find in a combat environment. We send items such as thermometers, paw protection, grooming products, and collapsible water bowls to enhance safety and comfort for our four-legged troops. Many of the teams we support serve in remote areas and harsh climates. They regularly tell us they value the supplies we send each quarter.

Since its founding in 2006, MWDTSA has sent over a million dollars of care packages to deployed MWD teams. “These packages are the only piece of mail that some MWD teams will receive during a combat deployment. This grant from the Petco Foundation is an integral part of our quarterly care package program. We are grateful for the steadfast generosity of the Petco Foundation and their supporters,” said Nikki Rohrig, MWDTSA’s President.

The Petco Foundation’s annual Helping Heroes campaign funded the MWDTSA grant. The campaign, which takes place each October in Petco locations nationwide, supports the life-changing work of service, therapy and working animals.

For more information about MWDTSA, visit https://www.mwdtsa.org/. For more on the Petco Foundation, visit petcofoundation.org and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #HelpingHeroes.

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About Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc.

A national, all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit, MWDTSA supports Military Working Dog teams in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Each team consists of a dog and a handler, and their mission is force protection—explosives detection, tracking, patrolling, specialized search, and drug detection. They put their own lives at risk to save the lives of other soldiers and civilians every day. To learn more about how you can help MWDTSA support both ends of the leash, contact president@mwdtsa.org or visit https://www.mwdtsa.org/.

About the Petco Foundation

At the Petco Foundation, we believe that every animal deserves to live its best life. Since 1999, we’ve invested more than $260 million in lifesaving animal welfare work to make that happen. With our more than 4,000 animal welfare partners, we inspire and empower communities to make a difference by investing in adoption and medical care programs, spay and neuter services, pet cancer research, service and therapy animals, and numerous other lifesaving initiatives. Through our Think Adoption First program, we partner with Petco stores and animal welfare organizations across the country to increase pet adoptions. So far, we’ve helped more than 6 million pets find their new loving families, and we’re just getting started. Visit petcofoundation.org to learn more about how you can get involved.

 

This photo shows RMWD Elmer with a U.S. flag in the background. Elmer will be one of the dogs visiting Petco on October 12 to say thank you for Petco Foundation's generous support.

From October 5 to October 27, 2019, Petco Foundation is raising money to support thousands of therapy, service, and working animals. These intrepid partners improve lives across the nation and around the world—and the honorees include military working dogs. During this Helping Heroes campaign, customers can donate online and in Petco stores across the country. As part of this effort, Petco is hosting MWDTSA at 16 stores on October 12, 2019, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time.

You can meet retired military working dogs at the locations marked in blue:
State Store Address
Arizona #2142 MARANA 8050 N. Cortaro Rd., Tuscon, AZ 85743
California #1117 PORT HUENEME W. Channel Islands Blvd, Port Hueneme, CA 93041-2179
Colorado #2451 LOVELAND 261 East 29th Street, Loveland, CO 80538
Florida #1515 W MELBOURNE-FL 205 Palm Bay Road NE Suite 155, West Melbourne, FL 32904-8602
Florida #1577 TARPON SPRINGS 40962 US Hwy 19 North, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689-5446
Florida #1755 W PLM BCH 1951 N Military Trail Unit C, West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Georgia #1879 MILTON-GA 13089 Highway 9 North, Milton, GA 30004
Hawaii #1197 EWA BEACH 91-1065 Keaunui Dr., Ewa, HI 96706
Maryland #2808 CROFTON MD 1412 South Main Chapel Way, Gambrills, MD 21054
Missouri #1634 KANSAS CITY 1210 West 136th St, Kansas City, MO 64145
North Carolina #2737 CNCRD-NC 8070 Concord Mills Blvd, Concord, NC 28027
Oklahoma #2433 LAWTON 223 NW 2nd St, Lawton, OK 73507
Virginia #2810 VA BEACH SO VA 4540 Princess Anne Rd. Suite #128, Virginia Beach, VA 23462-7962
Virginia #5811 WOODBRIDGE 14900 Potomac Town Place, Suite 110, Woodbridge, VA 22191-4095
West Virginia #2880 S CHARLSTN 2714 Mountaineer Blvd, Charleston, WV 25309-9442
Petco Foundation’s Helping Heroes fundraising campaign benefits MWDTSA

Over the past few years, Petco Foundation has generously supplied MWDTSA with $5,000 annual grants to support our quarterly care packages.

These Petco Foundation investments help MWDTSA purchase items like thermometers, grooming wipes, water bowls and undercoat rakes, as well as helping to fund postage to ship these supplies to deployed teams.

Military working dogs protect our troops through explosives detection, tracking, patrolling, specialized search, and drug detection. They put their own lives at risk to save the lives of other soldiers and civilians every day. We have supported over 6,000 deployed MWD teams with care packages since 2006.

Please join us to learn more about MWDTSA and how Petco Foundation has made a difference for our organization.

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://www.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.

 

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.

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://www.mwdtsa.org/donate/. Thank you!

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

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!

 

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://www.mwdtsa.org/donate/.

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!