GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
As I wait in the photo studio for the next customer the sound of metal clinking together reaches my ears from the hallway. A bark follows and I know that this is the appointment I have been waiting for.
The temptation to treat him like any other dog on the street is strong, but I know that he is currently on duty and because of that I resist the urge to pet him.
I reach up and take my camera off of my tripod to better maneuver and take the photo for the security forces K-9 team.
“Alright, if you could try to hold him still while you kneel I will take your photo,” I said to the security forces military working dog handler.
“Come here Hugo,” said Senior Airman Shane Myers, 17th Security Forces dog handler. “Good boy, look up, here.”
I snap a couple of photos, trying to time the shutter going off with when the hyper Belgian Malinois is looking at the camera.
Out of nearly 10 photos taken his handler and I are able to use one for their official photo kept on record.
This was the day I met Hugo, one of the 17th SFS K-9’s. As most dog owners would, I loved seeing him around base.
Something that has always been at the back of my mind, if I didn’t already have my hands full with my own pets, is the possibility of adopting a retired military working dog. I never knew the process a dog must go through to leave his unit and enjoy a life of leisure on the couch.
Hugo has worked as a military K-9 for 10 years and is a known favorite around Goodfellow Air Force Base. He has spent time with multiple handlers and always succeeds in bringing a smile to someone’s face when demonstrating his skills.
“While we were on deployment he was injured,” said Myers. “He messed up his hip and back, and while we are taking care of it, he has put in his time and deserves to enjoy his golden years.”
As a military working dog Hugo must pass certain tests to prove that he has no problems leaving the job behind.
“We have to test the dogs to make sure that they behave well for anyone,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Cravens, 17th SFS kennel master. “That involves muzzling the K-9, a physical examination and usually an aggression test.”
When a dog is injured the handlers can notify a veterinarian and have a form signed that allows them to waive the aggression test so that the dog does not aggravate any injuries.
The aggression test when administered involves the dog’s current handler and a second individual, a decoy, involved in an altercation.
“The decoy will start by just yelling at the handler,” said Cravens. “At that point the dog needs to remain neutral. After yelling for 30 seconds to a minute the decoy will then get a little physical with the handler and shove them.”
If the dog can remain neutral after the ‘argument’ escalates the decoy then turns their aggression to the dog itself, yelling, being loud and trying to elicit a response. That is the last phase of the aggression test.
“If for some reason the dog fails the test or shows aggression, there are ways to still retire them,” said Cravens. “A memorandum can be submitted to the commander for a handler who is familiar with the dog to still adopt them despite the failure.”
If a dog fails the test and a handler does not want to adopt them they can also be sent back to Lackland Air Force Base to receive additional training.
There are the rare occasions that a K-9 cannot be adopted out or retrained and they have to be put down.
“Those occasions are so rare,” said Cravens. “There are organizations that take in aggressive dogs from the military and rehabilitate them as well, so the percentage of dogs being put down is incredibly low.”
Thankfully, Hugo, has already been guaranteed a new home with plenty of space to run and a loving family to take care of him. He will reunite with a handler that he worked with in the past and can live life as a retired K-9 and not have to worry about patrolling the base anymore.
Thank you to the men and women who help keep our bases safe, but also a thank you to the four legged companions who help with this mission.
After learning about the process of a military working dog retiring I have not changed my mind about eventually adopting one when I have the time and space for them. Although I will be disappointed not seeing Hugo around base anymore, I am glad he gets to enjoy his well deserved rest.