On this Memorial Day Weekend 2023, the Military Working Dog Team Support Association is grateful to all U.S. military working dog handlers and K9s, past and present, who work tirelessly to protect our troops and our freedom. These teams often serve in front of the front lines, checking for hidden dangers such as improvised explosive devices and ambushes. They save lives.
The following military working dog handlers have died since September 11, 2001.
This list also includes some handlers from coalition forces. We thank you all for your service and sacrifice.
On Memorial Day 2023, please join us in reflecting on each name below:
Sgt Joshua Ashley, USMC, KIA 19 July 2012
MA2 Sean D. Ayoung, US Navy, died 21 Dec 2019
SGT Aaron J. Blasjo and MWD Hunter, US Army, KIA 29 May 2011
MA2 Sean Brazas, US Navy, KIA 30 May 2012
MA2 Michael Brodsky, US Navy, WIA/died 21 July 2012
Sgt Adam L. Cann, USMC, KIA 5 January 2006
SSgt Brian M. Carragher, US Air Force, killed 18 September 2010
LCpl Peter J. Clore, USMC, KIA 28 May 2011
Cpl Keaton G. Coffey, USMC, KIA 24 May 2012
SGT Zainah C. Creamer, US Army, KIA 12 January 2011
LCpl William H. Crouse IV and MWD Cane, USMC, KIA 21 December 2010
SSgt Christopher Diaz, USMC, KIA 28 September 2011
Cpl Max W. Donahue, USMC, KIA 6 August 2010
MA1 John Douangdara and MPC Bart, US Navy, KIA 6 August 2011
SSG Raphael A. Futrell, US Army, died 25 March 2009
SFC R. Aaron Grider, US Army SOC, KIA 18 Sept 2010
LTC Daniel E. Holland, DVM, US Army, KIA 18 May 2006
SSG James R. Ide V, US Army, KIA 29 August 2010
SrA Martin Kristiansen and MWD Loke, Royal Danish Air Force, KIA 13 June 2010
SPC Robert W. Jones, US Army, died 6 January 2018
SGT Dick A. Lee Jr. and MWD Fibi, US Army, KIA 26 April 2012
Cpl Dustin J. Lee, USMC, KIA 21 March 2007
SSG John Mariana, US Army, died 28 November 2012
Cpl Eric John Niss-De Jesus, USMC, died 5 June 2021
TSgt Jason L. Norton, US Air Force, KIA 22 January 2006
SFC Gregory A. Rodriguez, US Army, KIA 2 September 2008
LCpl Kenneth M. Rowe and MWD Sasha, Royal Army UK, KIA 24 July 2008
MA2 Christopher L. Roybal, US Navy, killed 1 October 2017
PFC Colton W. Rusk, USMC, KIA 6 December 2010
Sapper Darren Smith and MWD Herbie, Royal Australian Army, KIA 7 June 2010
Cpl David M. Sonka and MPC Flex, USMC, KIA 4 May 2013
Cpl Jeffrey R. Standfest, USMC, KIA 16 June 2010
SPC Brandon K. Steffy and MWD Maci, US Army, KIA 25 October 2009
SSG Donald T. Tabb, US Army, KIA 5 February 2008
LCpl Abraham Tarwoe, USMC, KIA 12 April 2012
LCpl Liam R. Tasker, Royal Army UK, KIA 1 March 2011
CPL Kory D. Wiens and MWD Cooper, US Army, KIA 6 July 2007
SGT Jorden Williams, US Army, died 02 January 2019
Sgt Christopher M. Wrinkle and MWD Tosca, USMC, died 31 July 2011
Photo credit: Heidi C. Rose-Fiscus
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-blog-memorialday-photo-20200524-scaled.jpg17072560MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2023-05-15 20:05:342023-05-15 22:16:26Memorial Day 2023
Will Chesney, an “ordinary” high school student living in a Southeast Texas trailer park, had a big dream—to become a Navy SEAL. In a gripping autobiography, No Ordinary Dog, he chronicles his journey from enlistment through SEAL training and multiple deployments. Along the way, Chesney became a dog handler, with MWD Cairo as his four-legged partner. Yes, he was “dad” to the dog who served during the 2011 Osama Bin Laden raid.
A surprising book
The title and introduction suggest a story about a single military working dog, but this book covers wider territory. Told chronologically, the chapters contain a story within a story. The first thread relates to the Navy SEAL mindset.
Every SEAL—two-legged and four-legged—must have rock-solid self-control. “The SEALS want men who cannot only handle adversity but who will not let their emotions get in the way of completing a job,” explains Chesney.
For humans, this means compartmentalizing the bad stuff and setting it aside in order to maintain laser focus on the mission at hand. For military working dogs, this requires single-mindedly and fearlessly doing their job, amidst loud noise, chaos, and tempting distractions. Over time, the trauma of war can breach even the tightest compartmentalization.
The second thread, of course, explores the human-canine bond, particularly between Chesney and Cairo.
The book concludes with the two threads intertwined.
A seamless team
Chesney does not become a dog handler until Chapter 8, one-third of the way through the book. Readers watch the bond grow between Chesney and Cairo from the first meeting to complete trust—from early training to dangerous deployments.
The book describes the military’s procurement and training processes for military working dogs. It also covers the handlers’ learning curve, including the occupational hazards and challenges they face. The bruises and bites. The 24/7 demands of feeding, grooming, exercising, and training a dog, while also maintaining personal combat readiness. The logistics of deploying with a K9. And the complexity of skills such as fast-roping from a helicopter with a dog.
The narrative chronicles several missions, not just the Bin Laden raid, and details the harsh realities of war for both two- and four-legged service members. The sounds. The visuals. The loss.
Will Chesney with MWD Cairo (Photo credit: United States Navy)
The catch-22 of a SEAL mindset
Resilience, perseverance, and focus carried Chesney through grueling months of SEAL training and eventual deployments. It kept him clear-minded during the Bin Laden raid and countless other missions.
As the book progresses, however, the very trait that seems most prized in a SEAL becomes problematic. How long can a person mentally set aside trauma and loss, before the images and feelings invade nighttime sleep and daytime functioning? How many explosions can concuss the brain before damage occurs?
“A decorated SEAL is not supposed to suffer from depression, because mental health issues are a sign of weakness, right? But that’s just bullshit.”
Will Chesney offers straight talk on PTSD and TBI
“I understood the power of post-traumatic stress, the havoc it can wreak on your body as well as your mind, and the danger of pushing it all down inside to someplace where you think it can’t touch you. Except eventually it all boils up to the surface again,” says Chesney.
He describes his experience with PTSD in detail, including debilitating migraines. Doctors and specialists attempted to pinpoint the cause and find relief for the symptoms, to no avail initially. Play sessions with Cairo seemed to be the best medicine, providing temporary respites from the chronic pain and related depression.
Ultimately, Chesney adopted Cairo and provided his end-of-life care. The book ends in a bittersweet place, yet offers a sense of hope. No Ordinary Dog demonstrates the healing and redemptive nature of the human-canine bond.
Every public library needs this book, as well as high school and college libraries.
Family members and friends of veterans and active-duty military will benefit from reading it. Service members, past and present, will find things to relate to in Chesney’s story.
Anyone who studies history—particularly, regarding 9/11—will get a clearer portrait of what modern-day military deployment looks like. Most civilians today have no idea what the War on Terror has involved.
Mental health providers, doctors, and veterinarians will gain a more comprehensive picture of training, deployments, battlefield injuries and their aftermath, and the traumatic events and losses that two- and four-legged service members experience.
Will Chesney and co-writer Joe Layden have done a public service by sharing this story. It’s a fast-paced opportunity to understand more about today’s military and the role of K9s in keeping our service members safe. It’s a heart-felt tribute to the human-canine bond. But most importantly, it encourages people with PTSD and TBI to reach out for support.
“A lot of vets struggle with symptoms related to their service, and often they feel like they have to suffer in silence. Alone. I felt that way a lot of the time. But there is help, and I was fortunate to find it. I’d like to help others find it, as well.”
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-kenneltalkblog-chesney-photo2-20200420-scaled.jpg25601684Leigh Steerehttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngLeigh Steere2021-04-21 05:25:562021-09-12 23:22:56Retired Navy Seal Will Chesney honors MWD Cairo and candidly discusses PTSD
My heart dropped when I received word recently that Homer Finley had died.
As the last surviving member of the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon, he was a living link to the earliest days of our nation’s military working dog program. At the time he served, he was part of an experimental, unproven initiative.
“Many of the Marine troops doubted that dogs could be put to any practical use in combat and grumbled that they would just get in the way.” (War Animals by Robin Hutton, page 62)
Joining the war effort
News of Pearl Harbor traveled like wildfire through Southside High School in Elmira, New York, where Homer Finley attended. Many 12th-graders were old enough to enlist right away and abruptly left school to join the war effort. Sixteen-year-old Finley and his 11th-grade buddies eyed the seniors with envy. He wanted to enlist, too, but he was underage.
Finley and his best friend begged their parents to sign permission forms allowing them to enlist at 17. Finley’s dad finally acquiesced, but his best friend’s parents said no.
The first weeks
Attracted by the blue uniform and stories of Marine fighting tactics, Finley chose to enlist as a Marine. After a 10-week boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, he reported for duty at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida. His first night involved a 12-to-4 watch, patrolling inside an administrative building. He walked around with a gun that had no ammunition.
Other responsibilities included working Main Gate security to ensure service members weren’t sneaking in alcohol or other contraband.
Monitoring office buildings wasn’t quite the job he had envisioned. So, when he heard an announcement seeking volunteers for a “job involving dogs,” he raised his hand.
Learning the ropes
When he arrived at Front Royal, Virginia, he beheld acres of dog houses.
At the time, the military did not have its own dog procurement or breeding programs. Instead, the fledgling war dog effort relied on donations. Breeders offered stock from their kennels. Civilians donated their personal pets.
“Everyday Americans making animal donations were proud of making profoundly personal sacrifices. They were giving up cherished pets freely and unconditionally, receiving in turn neither compensation nor any guarantee their dogs would return safely at the end of the war. Donating their dogs was a patriotic act and a way for Americans to become personally invested in the war effort.” (Hutton, 9)
At Front Royal, “we started obedience training with dogs we thought would be useful,” recalled Finley. The training involved quite a bit of trial and error, since the military had not yet developed formal training protocols.
One exercise involved hide-and-seek. The instructor asked one group of handlers and their dogs to hide and camouflage themselves in the landscape so the other dogs couldn’t find them. (Editor’s note: This cracked me up, because clearly they were underestimating dogs’ noses.)
Mr. Finley and a Beagle mix crawled into some brush. As they waited to be found, Mr. Finley inadvertently dozed off in the warm sunshine. The mutt barked sharply as “finders” approached, giving away their position.
Back to Jacksonville
At the end of the training program, Mr. Finley returned to NAS-Jacksonville with three sentry dogs and instructions to train two Navy sailors in how to handle them. The three handlers lived away from the main base activity, tending to the dogs and their kennels.
Not long after, Mr. Finley received orders to report to Camp Lejeune, where USMC had established its own dog training facility. That’s where he began preparing for his eventual deployment with the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon.
What struck me when talking with Mr. Finley is how many individual acts of patriotism were involved in creating the U.S. War Dog program:
17-year-old Finley wanted to enlist to help his country.
His parents said yes, knowing their son could be injured or killed.
Families—and even children—donated their personal pets.
A Hollywood dog trainer helped the 1st Marine War Dog platoon prepare for deployment.
…and the list goes on. It was a collective effort, involving citizens from all over the United States.
“’Pop, if Jack can save lives, I want him to go in,’ declared 11-year-old Bobby Verhaeghe through tears.” (Hutton, 75; Jack was one of the dogs Homer Finley worked with.)
The other thing that struck me…Several things happened along the way that could have delayed or prevented Mr. Finley’s deployment. For example, the 1st Marine War Dog platoon traveled by train from Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendleton for the next stage of their training. The journey took five days, and the dogs traveled by boxcar in crates. At every stop, the handlers got off the train to exercise the dogs.
At one spot in Texas, the conductor announced an extended stop. Several Marines, including Homer Finley, decided to run into town to buy a case of beer. As they were returning, the train whistle blew. They double-timed it, barely making the train before it pulled away. What if they had missed their ride?
Another example: During training in California, Mr. Finley and a couple of his comrades had a day of leave. They went to Laguna Beach, where they happened to meet some girls who lived in Hollywood. One of the Marines managed to get a phone number, and all three applied for leave so they could see these gals again. Their CO approved the leave but said, “You can’t go into L.A. because of the Zoot Suit Riots.” The group went anyway, rationalizing that Hollywood was not the same as L.A.
When the Lieutenant in charge of the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon found out the group had gone to the city against orders, Mr. Finley thought this might be the end of his military career. The Gunnery Sergeant said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw the book at you.” Finley breathed a sigh of relief at the punishment: “restricted to barracks for one week.”
Preparing for deployment
At Camp Pendleton, Finley’s platoon trained in small boats. “There was lots of upchucking,” he said. “Even some of the dogs got seasick.”
“Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz had pioneered the use of hand signals to direct animals from beyond camera range. He trained the terrier that played Toto in the Wizard of Oz… At Pendleton, the dogs and men of the 1st Platoon received accelerated training from Spitz.” (Hutton, 9, 61)
They eventually found their sea legs.
“On October 4, 1943, the regiment set sail for Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. It would be the first time the dogs and their handlers would be under hostile fire.” (Hutton, 63)
Homer Finley in Bougainville
The 1st Marine War Dog Platoon included 24 dogs. Three of those were messenger dogs—Caesar, Jack and Thor. Homer Finley was one of six messenger dog handlers.
“The messenger dog was a lifeline between units—a reliable conveyor of communication in dense jungles where telephone wires had been cut or had never existed.” These dogs “posed a difficult target for the enemy. He could find his way in daylight or darkness, through any kind of weather or terrain, and he was especially effective in the jungle.”
“Every messenger required two handlers; the dog ran from one master to the other.” (Hutton, 28, 29)
War Animals describes the Bougainville campaign in detail. It’s a great read. Bottom line: the dogs and their handlers quickly proved their worth.
“The dogs became the eyes and ears of the Marines.” (Hutton, 63)
“I loved working with the dogs,” said Finley. “It was rewarding that the program worked. The dogs saved lives.”
Shortly after Finley got to Bougainville, the Marines reassigned him to the Raider regiment and gave him a crash course in demolitions. From that point on, he traveled with interpreters who tried to talk enemy combatants out of pillboxes and caves. Finley’s job: to sling charges into openings to seal up hiding spots.
A subsequent injury in Guam resulted in medical evacuation to Hawaii. Once recovered, he returned to the mainland U.S. to finish out his four-year military service commitment.
I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to meet a WWII handler, particularly one in my county.
One day, many months ago, I was staffing a MWDTSA information table at Chuck and Don’s Pet Food and Supplies in Longmont, Colorado. Hosting educational events is one of my favorite parts of volunteering with MWDTSA. Occasionally, veterans or family/friends of active-duty handlers will stop by to introduce themselves. That particular day, a customer said, “You’ve got to meet my neighbor Homer Finley. He handled dogs in World War II and even knew Caesar!”
My first meeting with Mr. Finley took place in late summer 2019. When I think of 94-year-olds, I envision canes, walkers or wheelchairs. Mr. Finley used none of these. Still ambulatory, he shook my hand firmly and spoke with the steady voice of someone decades younger.
Above: Homer Finley sits at his writing desk, September 16, 2019.
Notebook and pen in hand, I took copious notes as he shared about his time in the service and with the dogs. Humble and down-to-earth, he remarked, “Really, I’m just a regular guy. All of us wanted to help in WWII. I don’t know why people are making such a big deal about my service. You know, you are the third person to interview me recently.”
The first was Robin Hutton, who included Mr. Finley’s account in her book War Animals. The second was a researcher from University of Colorado-Boulder, who hoped Mr. Finley might have insights about Bougainville. And then me.
What Mr. Finley described is a level of patriotism that I have not seen in my lifetime. The U.S. rallied together after Pearl Harbor. Everyone wanted to do their part.
Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Finley celebrated his 95th birthday. He was still walking unassisted. He completely redefined for me what it means to age with grace. His zest for life and sense of humor will continue to inspire me for the rest of my years.
Featured image at top: This 1943 photo shows Homer Finley at Front Royal with an unnamed Saint Bernard. In World War II, the military utilized the Saint Bernard breed for hauling ammunition. Photographer unknown.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-kenneltalkblog-aura-photo1.jpg959959MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2020-02-12 14:15:412022-10-30 10:10:03Two tributes to RMWD Aura N679
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-blog-petcophoto-20200114.jpg946995MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2020-01-14 09:37:282021-04-18 23:17:55Petco Foundation awards $5,000 grant to MWDTSA
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:
8050 N. Cortaro Rd., Tuscon, AZ 85743
#1117 PORT HUENEME
W. Channel Islands Blvd, Port Hueneme, CA 93041-2179
261 East 29th Street, Loveland, CO 80538
#1515 W MELBOURNE-FL
205 Palm Bay Road NE Suite 155, West Melbourne, FL 32904-8602
#1577 TARPON SPRINGS
40962 US Hwy 19 North, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689-5446
#1755 W PLM BCH
1951 N Military Trail Unit C, West Palm Beach, FL 33409
13089 Highway 9 North, Milton, GA 30004
#1197 EWA BEACH
91-1065 Keaunui Dr., Ewa, HI 96706
#2808 CROFTON MD
1412 South Main Chapel Way, Gambrills, MD 21054
#1634 KANSAS CITY
1210 West 136th St, Kansas City, MO 64145
8070 Concord Mills Blvd, Concord, NC 28027
223 NW 2nd St, Lawton, OK 73507
#2810 VA BEACH SO VA
4540 Princess Anne Rd. Suite #128, Virginia Beach, VA 23462-7962
14900 Potomac Town Place, Suite 110, Woodbridge, VA 22191-4095
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.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-kenneltalkblog-petco-photo-2019-scaled.jpg25601913MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2019-10-01 04:00:222020-04-04 17:08:01Petco hosts MWDTSA at 16 stores on October 12, 2019
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:
We will include a card in the care package, acknowledging who sponsored the box.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-q1-2019-carepackage-photo-20190203-scaled.jpg17322560Leigh Steerehttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngLeigh Steere2019-03-11 14:37:372020-04-04 18:08:2514 ways to support military working dog teams
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?
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?
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.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-RexSpecs-bannerimage-20181204.png5431038MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2018-12-10 11:51:082020-01-29 00:29:34Rex Specs co-founder speaks on dog eye care
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).
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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/.
https://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-kenneltalkblog-fortcampbell-photo1-20181016.jpg21331430MWDTSAhttps://www.mwdtsa.org/wp-content/uploads/mwdtsa-website_headerlogo-01-2020-300x138.pngMWDTSA2018-10-16 16:38:452020-04-04 16:21:49Fort Campbell and friends: kennel visit recap