By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Military and police dogs spend their lives sniffing out drugs, bombs, booby traps and bad guys. Since the U.S. first started training them in World War I, they’ve saved countless lives and helped in many large-scale missions – even in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. So to honor them this Veterans Day, I wanted to highlight the work one human veteran is doing to give these animals the help they need when their service is over.
Danny Scheurer spent 11 years as an active-duty Marine and Army soldier. During a deployment in Iraq in 2005, a military working dog saved his life. Scheurer was eternally grateful, but he found out later that his savior had been put down. He didn’t think that was right, so he vowed to start an organization when he got home that ensured every canine veteran received the same honors and care that humans got.
Thus, Save-A-Vet was born. The nonprofit helps rescue military and law enforcement working dogs from being euthanized when their service is done. And in order to help the dogs, the organization actually helps human vets, too.
“What happens is we take a dog and we put it on our [nonprofit-owned] secure facility, and then we hire disabled vets to live at the facility and take care of the dogs,” Scheurer said. The human vets get rent-free housing in exchange.
The canine veterans involved have special needs and issues that they developed during their careers, either during training or at work. But they’re great animals, Scheurer said, and they’re actually pretty easy to “decommission” – or retrain for civilian life.
“For example, a military dog goes to [Joint Base San Antonio] Lackland and gets trained for Iraq, then gets shipped to Iraq and is a Navy explosive ordnance disposal dog. Typical Navy deployments are 6-8 months. That means it’s getting a new handler every 6-8 months. So when we get the dog, we’re just a new handler for it,” Scheurer explained. “The difference is we’re the first handler who lets the dog sleep outside of a kennel … and play whenever they want.”
Take Paddy, who’s been living with Danny since January. The English springer spaniel is a retired State Department canine who spent four years working as an EOD dog at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. He did a great job, but for reasons Danny couldn’t say, he was scheduled to be put down when his service was over. Thankfully, one of his handlers and the kennel master convinced State Department officials to give him to Save-A-Vet.
“He is phenomenal,” Scheurer said. “He’s got about 150 balls everywhere. He constantly has one in his mouth. He’ll hide them under the pillows. He’s the friendliest dog we’ve ever had.”
The vets involved in the program are former military, law enforcement or first responders who are disabled or have fallen on hard times. They have to have a full-time job or go to school full-time while maintaining at least a C average to be eligible for the program. They also have to have been medically or honorably discharged. The program helps them get back on their feet financially, and it gives them structure.
“It’s not a free hand out,” Scheurer said. “You wake up at 6 a.m. and take care of my dog. …. If it’s not being fed at 6 a.m., you’re fired.”
“There are set times that they eat and they go outside, and if you defer from it, trust me, there are definitely consequences,” said Bob Sutalski, a vet who takes care of Laky, a former sheriff’s dog, and Zander, a retired Massachusetts State Police canine. Sutalski spent 13 years in the Army Reserve and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan before getting out in 2014. Within a few months, he was introduced to Laky and Zander.
“I sat down on the couch, and they both sat next to me,” Sutalski said. He ended up being just the right fit for them. “Zander is always by my side, no matter what I do. He plays fetch, he plays Frisbee, he does everything – he kind of fell right into retirement.”
It’s been a little more work for Laky, who’s more jumpy. Sutalski told me about one time when Laky slept in the same bed as another human vet.
“I told the guy, … ‘If you’re going to sleep in the bed with this dog, you’ve got to realize you can’t move very suddenly.’ Well, he sneezed or something in the middle of the night. Laky woke up right next to him and growled in his face, and the guy kind of screamed like a little girl,” Sutalski said.
Spoiled Every Day
So, do the canines get any special treats for Veterans Day? Nope – mainly because they’re already spoiled, Scheurer said. Take Nero, a bacon-loving former bomb dog, for example.
“Every day on the way to work, we would have a couple select firemen and cops and construction workers – they would stop by the veteran’s house in the morning and bring that dog bacon,” he said. “Every day.”
If you’re curious, Save-A-Vet does NOT adopt dogs out – only the MWD Working Dog Program out of Lackland AFB can do that. But Scheurer and the other vets’ efforts are certainly giving these canine heroes a fulfilling retirement!
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