When people and countries go to war, there are all sorts of reasons: resources, territory, religion or to settle a dispute. But for dogs that serve on the front lines — whether they're hunting bombs, drugs or weaponry — there's a completely different motivation.
"They’re not trying to find a bomb or a drug; they’re trying to find their toy," says Kristen Maurer, founder and president of Mission K9 Rescue." Maurer says when these dogs get a find their handler lets them play with a toy for a little while. "That's what they're hopeful for. They’re all going on instinct and drive."
Thousands of dogs have risked their lives serving every branch of our armed forces to protect our military personnel, but not all of them get a hero's sendoff when their tour ends or they retire from the program.
"There are two types of dogs: military working dogs and contract working dogs. They do the same job overseas, finding drugs, some do patrol where they do bite work to protect. Some are single purpose looking for drugs or explosives," says Maurer.
Military working dogs are deployed for nine months and then returned to their duty station, often retired to other parts of the world. "The contract working dogs are a little bit of a different scenario. Those dogs stay in the combat zone their entire career. They work out of kennels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and when their tour is up they retire. Some contract companies bring their dogs back to the United States and will adopt them out; other contract companies just don’t bring them back," says Maurer.
Mission K9 Rescue works to reunite military working dogs and contract dogs with their handlers, to rehabilitate dogs so that they can be adopted, and assist with the expense of bringing these dogs home.
"They risk their lives every day and they just need a ride home." If a bond has been formed and the handler wants to adopt his or her bestie, they work with the Department of Defense. "It’s up to the handler to figure out how to get the dog back to the continental United States," says Maurer, which is where Mission K9 Rescue can offer assistance.
U.S. Marine Stephen Heath, who grew up in Katy, became attached to Ivy while they were deployed in Afghanistan. He came home in 2011 but had to wait another three years before she retired. Not only did Mission K9 Rescue help raise the $700 to fly her to Houston for their reunion, but Maurer escorted her on the plane. Their story, and photos of the joyful reunion at Hobby Airport, were documented by the Houston Chronicle.
After serving in combat not all dogs are ready for domesticity, but Mission K9 Rescue works to match the dogs with the right adoptive home. "The ones in our care, a lot of them don’t play well with other dogs; they’ve been isolated. They don’t understand the art of play. If we've been able to get them to play with other dogs, then they do great," says Maurer. "Some of them they’re never going to get along with another dog — we know this. These dogs need a single animal home."
They very rarely will adopt these dogs to a family with a cat or a child under the age of 12. "We get some that we know have zero toy drive or prey drive anymore and those are the ones that will probably be OK with the cat; that’s pretty rare," says Maurer. "And then small children — that’s another issue. Not because they’re aggressive but this small child has a toy or animal in their hand. [The dogs] want to play with it; they just want to go grab that toy."
Over the past five years Mission K9 Rescue has rescued more than 250 war dogs and has helped facilitate more than 100 dog and handler reunions, so it's rewarding work. But it's also very expensive. Maurer says that in any given year they could spend more than $160,000 for medical care.
If this subject touches your heart, there are a few ways to help. Yes, they need adoptive homes but potential families will need to be patient because Maurer's team is very careful about matching the dogs by lifestyle and criteria, and not all adopters are right for this type of dog.
Rover Oaks Pet Resort has stepped up to become a friend in need, and this is the eighth year that they've launched their month-long donation drive, Operation: War Dogs, in support of Mission K9 Rescue.
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Between now and July 4, just stop by one of their locations in Houston and Katy to make a donation and, while you're there, find out why Rover Oaks has become the ultimate getaway for pets with lodging, daycare, grooming and training. Plus they're offering tail-wagging swag. Donations of $25 will get you a commemorative army dog tag necklace or yappy hour treat pass, and all donors will have their name written on a paw print and affixed to the wall. Donations also can be made online at roveroaks.com/wardogs.
"We’re so grateful to Rover Oaks and this fundraiser they do for us; it gets us through the summer," says Maurer. "Donations are kind of a little slimmer in the summer. Having this for us really keeps us afloat for the summer and we’re so grateful to them. What they do for us is just immeasurable."
Donations for Operation: War Dogs will be accepted through July 4 at Rover Oaks Pet Resort in Houston (2550 West Bellfort, 713-662-2119) and in Katy (24250 Kingsland Boulevard), roveroaks.com and roveroaks.com/wardogs.