Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heroic War Dogs- Archive Article from 2003/Leisure Life

The following article was written over 8 years ago. Since then many things have changed to include more of our war dog heroes that have been honored by the military agency for which they have served and allowing some to return home to retire and live civilian lives. Also, not included in this article are the countless numbers of stray dogs who have befriended and even saved many of our military personnel while on deployment. Some of these dogs have also returned to the States, to a heroes welcome!
I would love to hear personal stories from military personnel or their families who might have some experiences with militray dogs or strays who they befriended.

In honor of Memorial Day here is an archived article to remember those who have no voice, the hero dogs of wars gone by.

Heroic War Dogs

War is upon us, gaping through our windows, blaring on our radios and illuminated over our TV screens. We watch as our patriotic American troops fight to protect our Country. As a caretaker of animals it is only natural for my mind to wander to the animals that have also been deployed to serve our United States. Will these loyal creatures be honored for the duties that they provide, or will they be a mere commodity in this confusing struggle?
So what of our proud and gallant wartime service dogs, those many thousands of canine companions that have given their lives to protect our troops and ultimately our freedom?  These animals have extreme dedication to their masters and are specially trained human shields as well as very dangerous weapons, who also feel pain, joy and love.
They have been sent out to do a job, and could quite possibly lose their lives performing such a duty. Man’s best friend is truly that, in a time of war.
Military working dogs of all breeds and sizes have been deployed to assist all branches of the military since World War I. The most popular of the breeds seemed to be the German Shepard and the Doberman Pincher, followed by the Labrador retriever.
In World War II the first official account of America’s First War dog hero, Stubby, were kept. He was a Bull Terrier and served over eighteen months and in over seventeen battles on the Western Front. He originally hailed from New Haven CT and was even honored by President Woodrow Wilson upon his return from the War.
Dogs were tattooed, or “branded” in the left ear for easy identification. Their duties ranged from Scout Dogs, which were the eyes and ears of the unit, Combat Trackers, picking up scents and locating missing soldiers, Sentry Teams, walking the periphery of the camp and as Guards and Mine/Booby/ Tunnel Dogs, detecting these potential causality-seeking devices.
It is no wonder that there is a profound bond between human and animal during times of combat when these War Dogs helped prevent over ten thousand American causalities.
Records do not depict the countless canines used in all of our past military encounters but rough statistics kept during the Vietnam War show that a list of over 4,900 dogs went to combat from 1964 to 1975. Of those loyal best friends, only 204 actually exited Vietnam to return to the United States. Though none went to civilian life. The remainder of them were either euthanized, left on the streets somewhere in the Pacific or turned over to the South Vietnamese Army. The horror of knowing that mans truest and most loyal companion served his Country only to be classified as military equipment and declared “surplus armaments” is mortifiably a tragedy. These true canine Hero’s had no voice and their cries went unheard.
One can only hope that today, as our Country engages once again in combat that we honor and respect our Nation’s War Dogs and not leave them behind, let them suffer or pass them by as our Forgotten Heroes.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A new shelter location deployment

This morning me and my makeshift posse’ of ten headed outa Memphis north on the highway, letting our GPS guide us to a small town in Missouri, where there we were to find our way to the next shelter that we were reassigned to.
It was a two hour drive and our two car caravan left around 8am. Warm sun and receding flood tides met us along Interstate 55. We saw complete farms filled with river water, power lines sunken mid-way in murky brown-ness and evacuated homes; this was the scenery that became a visual for much of our ride.
Conversation in the Ford F250 Super Duty pick up truck strayed from general joking to more somber topics like the sadness many of us felt for the struggles that the locals must be suffering through.
Before we knew it, we had arrived. How our GPS was able to find the tiny little dirt road leading to our destination of a fairground now turned into an emergency shelter was nothing short of a miracle.
We were given our walking papers from our Incident Commander and told to report two miles down, where the majority of the animals were. Our current location was set up for cats and a few horses. It was amazingly well organized and not in need of us. They told us the dogs, about 60 plus and down from a few hundred were the neediest of new staffing.
Phasing workers in and out with weekly rotations seems to be a pretty stringent procedure. It keeps the emotional risks of compassion fatigue down and allows for fresh workers to replace the tired and worn out crew.
Once we made our way to our next destination we had a briefing and were assigned our duties for the remainder of the week. We are the lucky crew, it seems the overall combined shelter numbers have dwindled from about 500 animals to just fewer than 150. Most have been reclaimed by their once displaced owners after they were able to get back into their previously water ransacked homes.
So there we went, back to hard, but rewarding work, cleaning, walking, feeding and generally adoring the critters we are lucky enough to have in our temporary charge.
I won’t bore you with the evening debrief, or how I found my way to a fabulous Mexican restaurant to plop my worn out body down in to write this blog, or how my one Sangria and vegetarian dinner helped me unwind from the day’s events.
More to come tomorrow, if I am not to ‘pooped’; and yes, the pun was intended.
G’nite ya’all!   (said in a Southern drawl)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another day of deployment

May 16, 2011

After yesterday’s 12 plus hour work day and a night out enjoy some local Memphis Blues Music, the 6:15 am wake-up call came way to early this morning.
At least we are in a hotel, and not sleeping in tents, as I had originally expected. I really didn’t know what to expect when I had gotten the original email, asking for trained volunteers to help the ASPCA with the shelter operations they had set up down in Memphis.
My early morning rise included meeting other rescue volunteers along with ASPCA staff, American Humane Association employees and volunteers and then to make the 5 minute ride to the temporary animal shelter.
A local business was generous enough to donate the use of their large warehouse where the building was set up in sections; quarantine, general population, behavior challenged, cats, kittens, maternity ward, veterinary area, staff lounge and of course the command center.
There is use of a back parking lot, which allows the animals to get outside for walks and sunshine, which comes in handy while cleaning the cages.
I was assigned to the general population room with over 60 dogs, though I understand there was over 125, or maybe more, when the shelter was first set up.

Some animals are there only because their pet parents have been staying in Red Cross shelters or temporary housing which doesn’t allow pets. Daily, owners have been coming to reclaim their pets. It is nice to see the reunions happening; it boosts the spirits of the shelter workers.
The quarantine area was another story. I don’t know many of the details, but I understand there was a horder case uncovered during the floods and most of that area is dedicated to medical cases from the hoarder case. Only specified workers are allowed to enter/exit that area.
This afternoon when there were a few minutes of down time, I took advantage of it and cuddled with a litter of kittens. I was even able to get a dose or two of puppy breath, which put a smile on my face.

At the mid day briefing, myself and the CT crew was asked to relocate to a shelter in Missouri, where there has been another temporary shelter set up. I understand this one includes farm animals, and chickens, along with companion animals. Again, I don’t know many of the details, but will know more as we deploy in the morning.
Every night we end with a debriefing, and dinner. Then the night is our own and the animals get to rest.

There have been some awesome folks here, and I am honored to work with such an amazing group of welfare advocates from all over the United States. Safety for the animals and workers, behavior evaluations and enrichment, cleanliness, balance between work and down time, food, food and more yummy food, socializing and an overall comradery has been outstanding and I am honored to work with such an incredible crew.   
OK, time for some rest, tomorrow we travel two hours just to dive right into another temporary shelter.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day one- Deployment

We gathered early on this warm Saturday Connecticut morning; the group is an experienced team of animal care professionals, two vet technicians, one ACO, and me. Of them I knew one, the ACO.
We met up at the local car rental agency in Fairfield CT to begin our journey to help animals in Memphis.
From there we drove to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight down South. Our first stop was Charlotte, then on to Memphis.

Our deployment was on the recommendation of the CTSART which we are all active members of, and from them we were given marching orders to join the ASPCA team once we put our boots (ok, for me, I’m still wearing sandals) on the ground in Memphis.

So once there, we met up with more animal care professionals at the airport and made our way via rental car to the hotel, it’s late and the shelter is in evening mode, but we checked out the location, picked up a few more rescue folks, the made our way to grab a bite to eat and now back to the room for some sleep before the journey of tomorrow begins. It’s time for bed.
We will help the animals of Memphis, starting bright and early Sunday morning. G’nite!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why I save animals!

A pooch named Pickles

Sometimes it is hard to remember all the success stories, we as animal rescue professionals have. It’s no wonder, with all of the field service work we do, countless investigations, adoptions, surrenders, adopters, relinquishers, angry complainants, helpful volunteers, litters of bottle fed kittens, and puddles of puppy pee; that can’t we keep track of all the smiling children walking out of the shelter with their new forever best friend.

But today, years later and miles from the original success story, I was reminded of one very happy tale.

Now, thinking back, I kind of recall the story of Pickles. But not how he began as an abandoned puppy in the shelter, but instead, that he got adopted to a family who didn’t live far from my home. You know the scenario, the typical mom, dad and grade school age daughter looking for a puppy to join their family.

Somehow when they wandered into the shelter I recognized them from the neighborhood where I lived, so I gave them a personal tour, introduced them to a four legged furry fella who lacked a name, and only had an impound number assigned to his cage door. The details get fuzzy from there but when it was all said and done, these fellow neighbors had themselves a new little puppy.

I stayed in touch long enough to chuckle at the name the daughter finally assigned to him, Pickles. Yes, an uncommon name of a chow mix, but who am I to judge what a family names their companion animal?

For a while I would see Pickles being walked in the neighborhood, and even tried to make it a point to drive a little extra out of my way just so I could get a glimpse of Pickles in his new domain of yard and trees, playing with his other new friend, the existing family pooch.

After time went by, and life got even busier, my drive-by’s became less frequent and the need to see Pickles grew less and less, as the other more current issues took over. Pickles just became a successful statistic that I no longer needed to retain a memory of. Honestly, those are the types of memories I like, the ones that don’t disturb me, but remind me that I made a difference and can move on.

But, it was in an instant, while puttering in my yard, on one of spring’s warm weather greetings that Pickles appeared. He was an overgrown bush of a furry old friend, lumbering down my street, with his now quite grown up human teenage sister pretending to hold tight to his leash. Years had aged him, but that face, I had not forgot.

Instant memories of a giggling girl and her beaming parents departing from the shelter with an uncontrollable bouncing puppy brought a smile to my face.

Pickles greeted me, not because he remembered who I was, but because he found a friend on his walk to convince that he needed a scratch behind the ears. And yes, he got plenty of belly rubs and cookies too.

It seems the years really had flown by, Pickles, now a senior dog at about ten wasn’t just a pet. He became a confidant, a secret keeper and so much more. He unknowingly helped his human sister through grade school awkwardness, the death of a parent, prom, a driver’s license, high school graduation and the first year of college.

Now, his teen sister, home on spring break and out for a Sunday stroll with Pickles, granted me a gift I did not know I even asked for; a forgotten memory.

After our brief encounter and the two departed to finish their walk, I stopped my peach tree pruning, turned on my lap top and wrote this blog. I wanted to record exactly how I felt, before it faded into another distant memory.

I felt simple joy. Joy at saving a dog’s life, making a family’s life more complete and updating another successful animal rescue memory in my life.

There is nothing more to this story, other than reminding myself that the work I do, is truly good.


(To all who work on behalf of animals, please remember that you too, do good work).