Covered K9s: Great new program offers free healthcare for retired military & contract dogs

Military Dog Lex
Retired military and contract dogs will be eligible for free veterinary care as long as their adoptive owners can transport them to NJ. Organizers of this program hope to eventually secure veterinary hospitals around the country to treat these retired heroes. Photo of Purple Heart recipient Lex via

Military dogs don’t exactly lead lives of comfort. When not deployed, they generally sleep on the floor of concrete kennels. They work hard, giving it their all while training and working in all kinds of conditions around the globe. Sometimes they get hurt. Mostly, life just takes a toll, no matter how much they love their handlers or their work.

The people who adopt these heroes when they retire often end up with astronomical veterinary bills as the dogs grow older. For years, the U.S. War Dogs Association (USWDA) has been trying to get these K-9 veterans the medical coverage they deserve — kind of a Veterans Administration for the four-legged set. But regulations prohibit federal funding of such a program, so the organization’s founder, Ron Aiello, has been looking for alternative ways to take care of these retirees.

Lucca, the hero of my new book, Top Dog, was still in the military when she needed emergency medical care for her leg, which was blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Expensive diagnostics like scans will now be free for retired MWDs and CWDs whose owners can get them to NJ. The program should spread through the nation by early 2015.
Lucca, the hero of my new book, Top Dog, was still in the military when she needed emergency medical care for her leg, which was blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Expensive diagnostics like scans will now be free for retired MWDs and CWDs whose owners can get them to a new program in NJ.

This Veterans Day we have great news: USWDA has teamed up with the American Humane Association and Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals to launch the first of what they hope will be many free specialty medical programs for retired military dogs and contract dogs. Red Bank will use its five hospitals across New Jersey to provide free specialty care, including diagnostics, surgery, and pain management. (Applause!)

The only hitch is that for now, at least, owners of these hero dogs have to get their dogs to New Jersey. USWDA will try to arrange free lodging during diagnoses and treatment, but transportation isn’t (yet) covered. Still, it’s a strong start to this brand-new program, which Aiello hopes will evolve into a nationwide network of veterinary clinics by early 2015.

“Right now I feel so blessed that we are able to offer this service to our retired MWDs and CWDs,” Aiello told us. “For 11 years now we have been supporting our active military working dogs and their handlers through Operation Military Care K9, and now we are able to continue that support in their retirement years.”

Any adoptive MWD or CWD owners interested in participating in the program should go to the U.S. War Dogs Association site and fill in the necessary paperwork, including supplying adoption forms.

This is the best Veterans Day present for these dogs and the people who love them. Job very well done, everyone! Can’t wait to watch it expand throughout the United States!



10 Reasons to Love This 3-Legged Marine Hero

[I originally wrote this for It’s reprinted here with permission.]

Marine dog Lucca is my hero. The German shepherd-Malinois mix led more than 400 missions during three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and no one she served with ever got hurt. Lucca’s job was to sniff out IEDs and other deadly explosives, which she was trained to do off leash. She found plenty, saving countless lives. But the last one found her first.

Lucca lost her left front leg and retired after a lifetime of selfless service. She now lives the good life with her original handler and his family in Southern California. Sometimes her second handler visits from the Midwest, and the two handlers “co-parent” Lucca. It’s heartwarming to watch Lucca with her two favorite men in the world at her side.

There are so many reasons to love this three-legged Marine hero. Here are 10 of them, complete with photos.

1. She has your back when you need it

(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez)
(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez)

Lucca faithfully protects her second handler, Juan “Rod” Rodriguez, while on deployment with Special Forces in Afghanistan. She wasn’t trained to do this. She just did it.

2. She works like a dog to save her people from bombs

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Lucca and her legendary nose get the lay of the land in Baghdad on her first combat deployment, with handler Chris Willingham. Even now, in retirement, she sometimes checks out places for bombs for old time’s sake.

3. She knows when to take a hand from a friend…

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Willingham keeps up his end of a pact he made with Lucca after a grueling morning in Iraq.

4. …Literally

(Photo by Chris Willingham)

It’s a long story involving a triple amputee who threw Lucca his prosthetic hand at Walter Reed National Military Center because he liked her. It bounced like a Kong. What else was she supposed to do?

5. She looks fabulous no matter what she wears

(Photo by Chris Willingham)
(Photo by Chris Willingham)

Lucca looks almost proud to be wearing handler Chris Willingham’s shirt during some down time on their second deployment to Iraq, doesn’t she? Her then “boyfriend,” Posha, looks like he’s not quite so sure about his outfit.

6. And if she doesn’t, she doesn’t care

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Wonky Doggles? Not a problem for Lucca, who is always up for a laugh and a wag.

7. She fights through adversity

(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez.)
(Photo courtesy of Juan Rodriguez.)

Lucca starts on the road to recovery after a top surgical team consisting of veterinarians and “human” doctors amputated her leg because of the damage inflicted by the IED. Two days after surgery, she was walking unaided. Because she’s just that kind of dog.

8. And thrives on new missions now

(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)
(Photo courtesy of Chris Willingham)

Lucca’s missions have changed since her retirement. When she accompanies Willingham, who adopted her, to schools and veterans/military hospitals, it’s hard to tell who enjoys the visits more — Lucca or those she’s visiting.

9. She savors each day

(Photo by Chris Willingham)
(Photo by Chris Willingham)

Lucca is a genuinely happy dog who seems to see the best in everything and everyone. Here, the contented legend enjoys her well-deserved 10th birthday celebration with her loving family.

10. And lives life to the fullest…Always

(Photo by Ariel Peldunas)
(Photo by Ariel Peldunas)

We can all learn a lot from this beautiful hero. She’s a great inspiration to me. I hope she will be to you, too.

Win a Signed Copy of Top Dog!

Lucca and I are signing our books, and you could win one!

I’ve been spending this afternoon at my dining room table signing copies of Top Dog to send to my publisher for its various giveaways and events. As you can see, Mama Lucca, the hero Marine dog who’s the star of the book, has been lending a paw to the effort, via a rubber paw stamp created by her actual inked paw.

Would you like a chance to win a signed book? If so, leave a comment below about what you think of this expressive, three-legged specialized search dog. We’ll narrow the entries to our favorites, and then do a random drawing from among those next Monday. We’ll be in touch with the three winners to get mailing addresses. I’m not sure if my publisher will send them out then or after the Oct. 23 publication date, but either way, winners will have theirs by the end of the month. (Because we used to get so much spam, we now have to approve comments before they’re published. It could take up to a few hours to get to some, but all legit entries will be approved.)

If you don’t know much about Lucca, you can learn a little more about her on this site or by reading the recent Parade magazine book excerpt about her. Good luck!

Turbo: A Specialized Search Dog Finds His Way Home

Specialized search dog Turbo and handler Jon Silvey during some down time in Afghanistan.
Turbo and Silvey during some down time at home after Turbo’s recent retirement


On September 19, I saw a photo of a familiar dog on my Facebook newsfeed. A black Lab named Turbo. I looked at the name of the person posting it. Jon Silvey. Also familiar. I searched my emails and saw the start of his first note to me in May of 2012, from Afghanistan:

I just returned to my task force kennels after a few extremely long mission and was greeted by a few care packages. I was lucky enough to receive a heart felt care package from you containing a little piece of home and an amazing book. I am so grateful of all the supporters from back in the States but was especially overwhelmed by your book…

The book he was referring to was my book Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes, which had been published three months earlier. I’d included it in a care package I sent over thanks to Ron Aiello of the United States War Dogs Association helping me connect with a deployed dog handler on his list.

I re-read our subsequent correspondence, and messaged Sgt. Silvey to get an update. By great coincidence, he had adopted Turbo that very day. “He just retired today after 10 years of service,” he wrote. “He has served 3 tours as a specialized search dog, and has been with me 5 years. We have worked with Special Forces from different branches and countries.”

This beautiful photo of Turbo was taken by a helicopter pilot they worked with
This beautiful photo of Turbo was taken by a helicopter pilot they worked with

It was heartwarming to read — in hindsight now that he has become Turbo’s “dad” (this from a father of four human children) — what he wrote about working with this black Lab with a great nose — and about my book as well.

Let me just first say how much I love my job. I have been in the Army for some time now and done a lot of different things but nothing compares to showing up to work and seeing Turbo’s excite-full face every morning. So I am very appreciative to receive a signed book from you that depicts what we all know already but what others in the States and abroad need to know. People need to grasp that dogs are such an important part of the fight and they save many lives.

I can truly say that I have never had a battle buddy that I trusted more with my life than

Turbo. He always lends an ear when I need someone to talk to and he never interrupts. He doesn’t talk much but when I look into his eyes I know that he is listening to every word I say. Thank you for addressing this and putting it out there for people to read.

He wrote me that he feels like he was meant to be with Turbo. A series of coincidences put them in each other’s realm on various occasions, and he finally ended up being matched with Turbo at SSD (specialized search dog) school at Lackland Air Force Base. He wrote in later emails that he has deployed and mobilized four times before that deployment with Turbo, but as an MP without a dog.

The team searching a rooftop for explosives in Kandahar province
The team searching a rooftop for explosives in Kandahar province

He couldn’t believe his luck in getting Turbo for his first deployment as a dog handler – a job he calls “the best in the Army.”

I’ve done a lot of things in my Army career and worked with some of the best the Army has to offer but nothing compares to being a dog handler and working with Turbo everyday. Turbo does more than find explosives. He finds ways to motivate me and others around him on a daily basis.

Being an SSD, he has two jobs. He is an explosive detector dog and a morale officer. Around here everyone knows Turbo or has heard of him. He brings joy and comfort to everyone he works around and everyone that he passes by. Soldiers and contractors stop me all the time so they can pet Turbo or take pictures with him. They always tell me stories of their dogs back home and how Turbo reminds them of their dog.

Turbo in Afghanistan, a trusted friend and protector
Turbo in Afghanistan, a trusted friend and protector

In another email from Afghanistan, he continued talking about his partner.

I am honored to be able to do what I do everyday. Turbo just always seems to brighten up everyone’s day. As soon as they see him there’s an automatic smile from everyone and a cheerfulness that explodes from their faces. From time to time he is a cuddle bug but really he just likes to try to play fetch with everyone.

The secret to Turbo’s heart is a ball or a treat. If Turbo could talk I think he would say “I have never met a treat didn’t like”. As far as a 6th sense, I think all dogs have the gift to recognize the needy and lonely. Turbo always knows when I need that extra lick on the face or the paw on my leg that almost says “everything is going to be alright.” Dogs are truly amazing.

He sent along this pic of Turbo wearing booties, with an explanation.

Turbo wore booties a lot to protect his paws from nasty stuff
Turbo wore booties a lot to protect his paws from nasty stuff

Turbo wears booties a lot because of the gravel found at a lot of the FOB (forward operating bases) and PSS (police sub stations). Turbo also is older and has joint issues from time to time and wearing the booties helps him maintain a even surface while walking around. Turbo wears his booties on a lot of missions. Especially when he is searching areas that contain a lot of glass, chemicals, metal, and things of that nature. We call them his “Air Turbs”. He is thinking about his own shoe line. Lol!

I took this photo to show people some of the conditions the MWDs have to search in. It’s not a picnic by any means for them. They get down and search through some nasty stuff. Including human waste and garbage.

Our correspondence continued, and I asked where Turbo sleeps, being 99.99 percent sure of the answer. This is what he wrote.

Turbo always sleeps with me. When we are back at the kennels (which is really just a tent and doesn’t consist of any real kennels) Turbo sleeps on my bed with me. He has his spot and I have mine. When we are out on mission Turbo will sleep in my sleeping bag with me or right next to me. He doesn’t like to leave my side to often. Missions are all different and Turbo and I never know where we will be sleeping. On one mission in the mountains we slept on a hill side and when we woke up there was like a foot of snow on top of us. I just depends on the mission.

Turbo slept in sleeping bags with Silvey while on overnight missions. A bed or cot was a real treat.
Turbo slept in sleeping bags with Silvey while on overnight missions. A bed or cot was a real treat.

He went on to talk about Turbo’s most valuable asset: his nose, and his ability to use it to save lives.

Turbo and I walk point on missions. Given the nature of the enemy’s dedication of trying to blow us up. You really must trust your partner’s nose when you are out front walking a roadway, path, wadi, orchard, compound, or village. I can safely say that no one has ever suffered an injury due to Turbo missing anything. Everyone has followed behind us with no issues. I would go as far as to say that Turbo could find the needle in the haystack if you catch my drift. Even my wife and kids say that “daddy will be ok because he has Turbo and Turbo would never let anything happened to daddy.”

The team fast roping from a helicopter during taping of a show about PJs.

It’s as if Turbo should be wearing tights and a cape. He is not equipment. He is my hero and guardian. He is my battle buddy and my friend. He’s not only a Soldier with four-legs and a sniffer. He is Soldier that works for a simple pat on the head or a ball. He doesn’t care if it is to hot or raining. He doesn’t complain or run his mouth. He just does his job. That’s all he knows how to do, and he loves doing it. Turbo is my equal.

I got sand in my eyes as I read the words of this man working with Special Forces and infantry in Kandahar Province. It would be more than two years later that we’d pick up the thread of our conversation, when I found the photo of Turbo on his Facebook page.

Turbo is blissful about his life as a part-time couch potato. (I just noticed the corner my book Solider Dogs in the photo!)
Turbo is blissful about his life as a part-time couch potato. (I just noticed the corner my book Solider Dogs in the photo!)

He and Turbo had some close calls, and Turbo now has PTSD when he hears loud noises, poor fellow. But he’s safe at home now, with four children, two other dogs, and all the love and tennis balls he can handle.

Turbo’s retired life is becoming more real for him everyday. He couldn’t believe that he could have a ball or toy without having to do something for it. He slept with two tennis balls last night lol. He loves my two little boys and likes to just hang out with them while they play XBOX or watch TV. He was a little confused when I got in my ACUs this morning and wasn’t allowed to come with me to work. (Silvey is still an Army dog handler.) He still goes in front of me when I walk around the house as if he still needs to clear a path for me. He is my best friend and an amazing dog. I don’t think I could ever express in words how much he means to me. I am so happy he is finally home and look forward to our new adventures together.

Welcome home, Turbo. May you have years of the life you deserve. Thank you for your service, and Sgt. Silvey and family, thank you for opening your hearts and home to this beloved soldier dog.

Marine hero dog and handler reunite


Military Working Dog Darko enjoys his first time as a couch potato

The last time Marine Sergeant Daniel Cornier saw his K9 partner Darko, the Belgian Malinois was sticking his nose through the bars of his kennel at Camp Pendleton, looking as devastated as Cornier felt. “It was horrible for both of us. He just knew,” says Cornier.

That was in late 2012, not long after they returned from a successful deployment supporting Army Special Forces in Afghanistan. Darko, a specialized search dog, had made a name for himself as a super high-drive dog whose biggest passion was seeking out explosives. It helped that he was obsessed with Kongs and loved getting praise from Cornier. During that deployment, Darko had 11 finds, and saved countless live. 

Darko and Cornier bonded deeply while deployed in Afghanistan with the Green Berets. His close friend, Green Beret Sam Schroeder (to right in pic), was blown away by Darko's drive to find explosives.
Darko and Cornier bonded deeply while deployed in Afghanistan with the Green Berets. His close friend, Green Beret Sam Schroeder (to right in pic), was amazed at Darko’s drive to find explosives.

As so often happens in the military dog world, shortly after they returned from deployment, their assignments didn’t dovetail. So Cornier shipped off to Yuma, Arizona, while Darko stuck around the kennels at Pendleton. He was well cared for, but wasn’t assigned to another handler.

Not a day went by when Cornier didn’t think of his best friend. 

Cornier and Darko became good friends with Corporal Juan Rodriguez and Lucca during their time in Afghanistan.
Cornier and Darko became good friends with Corporal Juan Rodriguez and Lucca during their time in Afghanistan. He was there when Lucca (the star of my next book) was injured.

Darko’s original handler had wanted to adopt him, but when the time came for the Darko to be dispo’d, he was unable to take him. Next on the list was Cornier.

He got the phone call while he was vacationing in Florida a couple of weeks ago. Cornier, who recently adopted a military dog from Lackland Air Force Base when he thought he wouldn’t be getting Darko, was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to get back and help his best friend retire in style. 

But would Darko, now 10, remember him? It had been some 18 months since they last saw each other, and Darko had gone on three deployments, but only one with Cornier.

On Sunday, he and his girlfriend drove from Yuma, Ariz., to San Diego. He felt like a kid at Christmas, and could barely contain his excitement about picking up Darko the next day. “I can’t believe he’ll be coming home with us. He’s waited a long time to become a civilian,” Cornier said.

Check out this video we put together from the footage he sent us of their happy reunion. Do you think Darko remembered?

happy belgian malinois Darko sitting
Yup, Darko remembered! He was as thrilled to see Cornier as Cornier was to see him.

Darko has adjusted beautifully to civilian life. He loves sleeping on beds and couches, has plenty of toys, and is getting along well with Rromano, Cornier’s other adopted military dog. 

Cornier's other adopted military dog, Rromano (left) and Darko are getting along well. They're sure all ears, aren't they?
Cornier’s other adopted military dog, Rromano (left), and Darko are getting along well. They’re sure all ears, aren’t they?

Here’s to a wonderful and long retirement! He sure deserves it!

If you’re interested in reading more about Darko’s phenomenal bomb-search abilities and his time in Afghanistan with Lucca, he’s in my next book, Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca, which is available for pre-order.


Darko’s retirement started with a trip to a leash-free dog beach in San Diego. Nice!



Win a Signed Copy of Soldier Dogs!

cover of soldier dogs paperback


Soldier Dogs is coming out in paperback in early January, but being that I’m the author, I already have a small stash! How would you like to win a signed edition of this New York Times Best Seller hot off the presses? I’ll personally inscribe it for you or whoever you’d like to receive the book.

All you have to do to enter to win one of two signed copies is leave a comment below saying you’d like to receive one. I’ll do a random draw on New Year’s Eve, so enter by 5 pm California time Dec. 31. Be sure to use your real email address when commenting so I can contact you if you win.

(Don’t worry if you don’t see your comment appear right away. It may get stopped by my filter, but it will appear after I sign on and hit the OK button. I get too much spam here to do otherwise, alas. I need a patrol dog to take care of that!)

Good luck!

Update 12/31/12: Two winners have been drawn at random and notified. Sure glad I didn’t have to choose from all the hugely deserving

entries. Thanks for your interest, and stay tuned for another giveaway in the not-too-distant future!






Vietnam Marine Has Been Looking for Dog Handler for 40+ Years; Can You Help?

For more than 40 years, Tim Snyder, age 19 in this photo, has been trying to find a dog handler who shared a harrowing time with him in Vietnam 44 years ago. Can you help?

Can you help this Marine find a dog handler he was wounded with in 1968? (Tragically, the dog, Wolf, was KIA that day.) It would mean the world to him. He has been trying to no avail for more than four decades. The handler’s nickname was probably “Heck.” Please read on for more details. I’ll post it in the form of his correspondence to me and try to stay out of the way of his words and his story. My words will be in italics. The rest are his. (The photos of dogs in Vietnam are not photos of Wolf. They’re just reminders of these canine heroes. They come courtesy of the excellent 366th Security Police K-9 website.)

Dear Maria, I have been trying for over 40 years, with no success, to find the name of the dog handler with whom I was wounded on 22 May 1968 while serving with the 3d Bn, 3d Marines along DMZ in RVN.  His dog, Wolf, was KIA on that date.  The handler was wounded and I was wounded trying to help the handler.  The handler was an attachment (presumably from 3d MP Bn in Danang) so his name does not appear on the 3/3 unit records.  Do you have an sources who can help?  Many thanks.  Semper Fi.  .  .  

Tim Snyder, New Mexico–former S-2 scout.

The last patrol of Vietnam handler Gary Knutson and his dog, Eric 218E. This comes with a very touching story. You can read about it on my Soldier Dogs FB page at this link. (you may have to cut and paste if it doesn't give an automatic link)

I was, of course, intrigued by his request. I wanted to help him, so asked him for more details and any in-country photos so we could have the best chance of finding this man. He wrote back:

Thank you for your prompt response! The VDHA site lists Wolf (ID 150X) as KIA on 22 May 1968.  It lists his handler as John Guerrero.  I found John in Atlanta and he was very glad to speak with me.  He said that he rotated out of country in April ’68 (a month before my incident) and had to leave Wolf behind.  He didn’t know the name of the handler that was getting Wolf.

I had only been in-country for four months when I was wounded and medevaced out and this was my first experience working with this dog and handler.  I remember that the handler was a little older (maybe 26?) and that he wouldn’t swear so his nickname was ‘Heck’.  I’ve talked with some of my fellow scouts and they couldn’t remember his name either.

On the morning of 22 May, I was on the point of India Company (3/3) with Heck when Wolf alerted.  Our protocol called for sending the dog and handler back down the column after an alert because there was nothing more the dog could do for us–plus the dog would draw enemy fire in a firefight.  The patrol moved forward for about 15 minutes when our flank engaged the enemy and than we were all engaged.  Four of us in the point element were isolated for a while and fought from a bomb crater.  When we could no longer hold that position, we beat feet back to where the main column was and I heard Heck calling my name.  I ran over to him (about 50 meters), not paying attention to where he was.  On the way I passed Wolf, lying on the ground, dead.  Heck had a hole in his lower leg that was bleeding badly and I was kneeling by his leg pulling out a bandage to stop the bleeding when a piece of shrapnel from a chicom hand grenade entered my right chest, pierced my lung, and exited my back.  I rocked back on my heels and Heck could see that we were both in trouble–particularly since we were in an exposed area out in front of where our company was. Heck told me, “I’ll go this way, and you go that way, and we’ll meet at the LZ.”   That was the last time I saw him.

I was in some sort of shock and I couldn’t move for a while.  The guys behind me could see me out front and were telling me they’d get me, but the fire was too intense.  After about 15 minutes, I was able to cut my pack off and low-crawl along a narrow depression.  When I started to draw fire (I was close enough to see the eyes of the enemy soldier firing at me), I decided my only chance was to get up and run.  My guys caught me as I stumbled back into the perimeter and took me to the LZ.  I don’t remember who was there but I knew it was crowded.  There were two supply choppers bringing in more ammo, who were also picking up dead and wounded.  I got the last slot by the door and watched the enemy mortar rounds raining into the LZ as we pulled up.  Everybody on the ground was scattering.

When the choppers landed in Dong Ha, all the stretcher cases were hustled into the hospital.  I was left alone because I could still walk.  I made it into the hospital and passed out on the floor.  I remember somebody saying, “Hey, this guy’s got a red tag”, and the next thing I remember is a bleary-eyed surgeon telling corpsmen to get me into the operating room.  They stripped my clothing, turned me on my side, put my right arm over my head and the doc said, “Now hold him”.  He sliced my right side with a scalpel and shoved a drainage tube down into my lung.  I was very awake at that point and, regrettably, had more than a few choice words for those working on me.  They gave me a shot of morphine afterwards and I asked the corpsman why they didn’t give me something before.  I’ll never forget his words, “There’s no time for that here, man.  As long as we can hear you scream we know you’re alive.”

Anyway, that’s my story, and it would bring closure to me if I could talk to Heck and find out the rest of his story.  I attended a battalion reunion earlier this month and asked around with no luck.  I got my VFW magazine in the mail yesterday and saw Soldier Dogs on a list of new war-related books.  I haven’t yet ordered it, but will soon.   

Anything you can do to help find Heck would be much-appreciated.  In my book, he was a great guy just doing his job like the rest of us.  I’m sorry I don’t have any photos of myself at that time or of him.  We lived in the bush most of the time, and very few of us carried a camera.  

Vietnam dog handler Everett Tremblay and his dog, who is not anyone a bad guy would have wanted to cross...

When I wrote him again, I asked him if he was comfortable putting into words if he had any thoughts or feelings about that day, scout dogs, this dog, the situation, and just why he’d like to be in touch with the handler again. I was going to help him either way, of course, but I thought it would be helpful if putting this story out to dog handlers and dog lovers, we had some of his perspective about the dog, etc. This was not problem. Tim had a lot to say about this, and it’s very touching:

A little background on the scout dogs from one (old) Marine’s perspective.  .  .  They were critically important to the common grunt, and we knew it.  Everybody had respect for the dogs.  Not only did they save lives (ours!) by telling us when the enemy was near, but they worked in the same conditions we did.  They slogged through the same paddies, brush, and jungle.  They were hot and tired just like us, and the oppressive RVN heat and humidity had to have been miserable for the German Shepherds with their heavy coats.

Their handlers evoked the same respect.  We knew that the dogs were trained to obey only one man so everybody else had to keep their distance.  The dogs were not known for being friendly, and any bystander who got too close received a warning growl that was unmistakable in its message. 

Even in good times, there’s a certain cachet about a man and his dog.  In war, that is intensified.  We were all a bit envious of a Marine whose duties consisted of caring for and working with a dog whose only allegiance was to him.  AND, not any dog, mind you–but a German Shepherd.  It can’t get much better than that for a guy.

Handlers and their dogs were assigned to a central unit–ours were from the 3d Military Police Battalion in Danang–but “attached” to operational units.  This meant that they were moved around frequently and didn’t ordinarily have time to develop relationships with their attached units.  The S-2 scouts were the same.  We were formally assigned to Headquarters and Service Company but attached to line companies.  I worked mostly with India Company.  Heck was calling my name because I was most likely one of the few guys he knew, plus I hope he felt like he could count on me to help.

Tim Snyder at hospital

On my run to Heck, I actually leaped over Wolf.  Things were happening so fast that all I could think was “oh, no” and kept running.  Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about that.  I’ve looked at Wolf’s name time and again on the VDHA page and I have his ID memorized.  When I found his former handler, John Guerrero, I could tell that he loved Wolf.  He had heard that Heck had walked Wolf into a U-shaped ambush and he was glad to hear a different story from me. 

I wonder what the KIA rate was for the scout dogs as compared to regular grunts?  It may have been myth, but we strongly felt that the dogs drew enemy fire for two reasons, 1) the enemy knew that the dogs could detect them, and 2) it cost a lot more to train a dog than a Marine.  (I don’t know if #2 is true or not, but that’s the story that went around.)

For those reasons, Marines in a firefight don’t want to be anywhere around anything or anybody (even a dog) that will draw extra enemy fire.  Marksmanship is not at a premium in chaotic firefights, just fire superiority.  So anybody positioned near a target was bound to be “included” in the volume of fire.

Of course, the need to protect the dog and handler was another reason for sending them back into the column after alerting.  As cited before, they were extraordinarily important to us.

My drive to find Heck is four-fold.  First, I would like to find out the rest of the story.  Did he make it out?  How did he make it out?  Is he okay now?  Second, I would like him to know why I couldn’t finish helping him.  I’m sure all he knew was that I was bending over him and then just blanked out.  I was conscious but largely unresponsive.  He did the right thing by leaving.  He couldn’t help me and I couldn’t help him.  The two of us together made a more conspicuous target.  Third, I would like to thank him.  He was a friend to me, and he called to me.  That meant a lot to me.  Fourth, I would like to share my sympathies for the loss of Wolf.  Their bond had to have been strong, and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to lose him.

In summary, I guess I am seeking a measure of closure to events that have lived with me every day since then.

Just so you know, after I was finally discharged from a stateside hospital, I volunteered to go back to Vietnam and made it a full 13 months without major mishap.  I got out of the Marines, got married, and then re-enlisted for another five years, the last two of which I served as a Warrant Officer for the 12th Marines in Okinawa.  My wife and I had three children while I was still serving, and another four afterwards.  I went back to school and went into school teaching, and then school administration.  I am retired now, and my wife and I enjoy our 26 grandchildren.  We just returned from a two-year church mission to Cambodia so I now have time to resume my search for Heck.

Maria, I really appreciate your help AND listening ear.  I have attached three photos–an official one taken four months after I was wounded, one taken about a year later on the USS Iwo Jima, and a candid shot of an aging warrior.  I am searching for a photo taken of me at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu and will send it if I can find it.

Again, many thanks for helping out on this.  You are wonderful!

Tim Snyder 44 years after the top photo in this post was taken. Fingers are crossed that he and "Heck" can reconnect.

Tim, you’re a pretty wonderful person yourself, being able to write such a heartfelt account of that terrible day so long ago, and keeping this hero in your thoughts for this long. I really hope our community can help you get closure on this. Thanks for letting us lend a hand.

OK folks, please help spread the word about this Marine’s wish. I know there’s a very strong Vietnam handlers’ community out there, and it would sure be nice if someone could help him find this handler.

A Portrait of Rip V541: From Family Dog to WWII Hero to Handler’s Beloved Adopted Dog

The wallet photo of Rip that handler-turned-adoptive-owner W.D. Moore showed to people who asked to see his family.

In World War II, when the US war dog program was in its infancy, it depended almost entirely on people donating their dogs to the fight. I can’t imagine what it was like to say good-bye to the family dog – even in a time when dogs had a slightly different status in most homes – but people did it by the thousands.

One such dog was Rip, who was purported to be half Doberman, with what looks to be a strong streak of pit bull in him. Shortly after the publication of my book Soldier Dogs, I heard from Allen Moore, who was a little boy when his life intertwined with Rip’s. He was kind enough to send me some photos and documents about Rip’s life.

I want to share Rip’s story here, because it’s emblematic of the good dogs and loving handlers who helped usher in one of the most successful military dog programs in the world. It also shows the heart that we’ve always had for military dogs, and the fact that adoption of these dogs was going strong way back then – a policy that experienced a brutal turn for handlers and dogs during the Vietnam era.


Allen Moore fondly remembers the wallet of his dad, W.M. Moore, who’d been a dog handler in World War II. “Dad carried a picture of Rip with the garrisons cap in his wallet for many years until it almost fell apart. Not a picture of his wife and kids just HIS DOG. I for one, never felt slighted.”

Rip was just one of the handful of dogs under his father’s care during the war, but he’s the one who came home with him and spent the rest of his life with him. The details of Rip’s life before becoming a soldier dog in June 1943 are few, but he had a family and a house with a white picket fence. The photo below shows a young Rip with his pre-war owner. It must have been hard to give up this young dog as a military recruit.

Rip with his first owner before the dog became a soldier dog

After training as a handler with the K-9 Corps, W.D. Moore eventually was assigned to Rip V541. Rip had already been to Alaska for part of his soldier dog duties. The two shipped off for the Pacific Islands together. Here’s one life-saving adventure they had together, as told by his son:

“Dad and Rip landed on Leyte Island in early 1945, and were there about a year or less. One night they and another handler and his dog were on point in a wide V shaped zone. Rip began to growl so low that it could only be felt by Dad’s hand on Rip’s chest. After a while, the growl became more intense and more frequent. Dad started paying more attention and began to hear some sounds coming from out in middle of the V where no one was supposed to be. At that time Dad opened fire with his carbine in the direction of the sounds and the troops along the V opened fire with machine guns. The next morning when they investigated, they found some Japanese equipment and blood but no bodies. Rip had alerted to either an attack or infiltrators. He probably saved the platoon.” 

His dad understandably thought of Rip as a hero because of the lives and limbs he saved as a scout dog. The military thought the dog was pretty heroic, too. When Rip was released from his duties in 1946, after nearly three years of serving, the military presented him with a certificate of honorable discharge (below).

How great that dogs back then received honorable discharges. This is Rip's paper showing his "faithful service."

I’d love to see certificates like this given to retired military working dogs today. But that would entail the military officially seeing dogs as canine members of the armed forces again, and not as equipment, their current designation. (Their status could change if Congress passes the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act and the president signs it into law. The senate passed it earlier this year.) Obviously the dogs don’t care about a piece of paper with words on it, but it would mean a great deal to most people adopting these dogs, and serve as a constant reminder of their years of hard work on behalf of the nation. (It could occasionally help score these dogs an extra biscuit or two to have one of these hanging on the wall.)

Back in World War II, most dogs were rehomed, either to their original homes, or anyone who wanted to adopt a military dog. As it happened, W.D. Moore was not going to let Rip go to anyone else, and he was able to adopt him and bring him home to live with him and his young family in Colorado. Check out the letter below, which releases Rip to him. (For some reason the letter says the dog is going back home to him, but he’s not the one who donated Rip.)

Rip's discharge letter from the K-9 Corps. Note how Moore was instructed against anybody "sicking" him on anyone. :)

He went home with W.D. Moore, and settled nicely into family life. At first, neighbors were a little concerned about having a war dog in the neighborhood, but they quickly realized Rip was just a regular dog at heart. “He never bit anyone, he just didn’t like cats,” recalls Allen Moore. But when needed, his inner soldier came through.

Moore remembers the time when a drunk man was stumbling home from a bar a block away after being retrieved by his two children. “His hands and arms were on the kids’ shoulders. Rip must have sensed the kids were in danger, so he went up to the man and put his mouth on the man’s hand an pulled it away. After some cursing and other things, the man tried to put his hand back on the kids’ shoulders and Rip stopped him again. After that the man stood there and called for help, and Dad came out and called Rip in.”

Winters in Colorado were surely a good deal different than his time in the South Pacific. I love the photo below. It looks like Rip is waxing nostalgic about those warm islands.

Nov. 3, 1946, and life as a family dog in Colorado was a lot different than a year earlier when Rip and Moore were together in the Pacific Islands

And here he is in warmer months, “standing watch” at yet another picket fence, this one belonging to his beloved handler’s family.

Rip stands tall at the picket fence of his handler.

The years went by, and Rip became as integrated into the family as any human family member. The dog was deeply devoted to his former handler. “He always knew when it was time for Dad to come home,” say Moore. “Rip always waited for him to drive up and open the gate. He’d jump into the car or truck and ride with him for the 50 foot drive into the yard.” What a welcome!

But one day, Rip went missing. “Dad was beside himself, not knowing where and how it could have happened. We couldn’t believe he was kidnapped, but we realized that’s what must have happened,” says Moore. Two weeks after he disappeared, Rip showed up at a relative’s house a few miles away. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and his foot pads were sore and worn. The relative tried to secure Rip at the house until Moore’s dad could get him after work. But the dog must have realized he was close to home. He escaped, and continued on his journey home. “When Dad got home from work, Rip was waiting for dad as usual.”

Rip's "brother," Jim and Allen (right), around 1948. Allen is the man who would hear of my book 64 years later and send me these wonderful photographs.

Here’s a poignant photo of the heroes getting a little older together in the comfort of their living room.

Heroes on the battlefield, best friends in the living room.

Time moves forward too fast sometimes, especially where our love of dogs is concerned. Rip was the Moore’s family dog for six years after his service to country. In 1954, he was an old fellow of about 13 or 14, and eventually, as with so many old dogs, the pain of the maladies of old age was just too much. W.D. Moore took out the camera one sad July day and took what he knew would be the final photos of his war pal. It was Rip’s last day, and he wanted to remember him forever. “You can see in the pics the distress on our faces and our swollen eyes,” says Moore.

Here’s a photo of Rip on his last day, with young Allen Moore, who would write me six decades later and send me images of these photos and documents of his father’s (and his) beloved dog.

Allen with Rip on Rip's last day, in July 1954. What a sweet expression this boy had, and what a lasting impression Rip made on him.

And a photo that must have been so hard to pose for: W.D. Moore posing with his best friend, his hero, his comrade, his beloved Rip, on what he knew would be Rip’s final day.

Rip's last day with his handler, best friend, and greatest admirer

RIP, Rip, and a belated thank-you to W.D. Moore, for giving his dog such a good life.

(A tremendous thank-you to Allen Moore, for providing me with these wonderful photos and documents, and for his patience while I found a bit of time to finally put this story together. All images courtesy of Allen Moore.)

Navy SEAL Book Reveals New Information About Hero Dog in Bin Laden Raid

Your challenge: Find the dog! (Illustration from No Easy Day)

For anyone wondering if the brand-new book No Easy Day reveals much about the military dog who accompanied the SEALs on the Bin Laden raid, the answer is this: Although Cairo gets very little ink in the book, we do learn more about what he did. My publisher, Dutton (Penguin), launched this highly controversial book today, and I was able to get a copy (one of 550,000 copies in the first print run!) and pore through it for the crux of the exciting tale, and any info on the dog.

According to the book, Cairo was part of the small team that patrolled outside the compound for fighters running out to engage the Americans or wearing suicide bombs to protect their leader. (They’re known as “squirters.”) Cairo would be used to track down these squirters. The book calls him a Combat Assault Dog, but that’s not a designation anyone I’ve talked to has ever heard of. Sounds like a Combat Tracker Dog with patrol skills. (The umbrella “job” of Multi-Purpose Canine, used only in SpecOps, contains subspecialties that are on an as-need mission basis.)

There have been so many reports claiming as fact that Cairo led the way into the Bin Laden compound. My book, Soldier Dogs, left it all open. I’m glad to finally have some insight into what the dog that helped launch my book really did that day. We still don’t even know if Cairo is his real name, since all names in this book were changed. Maybe the authors forgot about the dog…

The illustration here shows a tiny little dog in the lower right corner, next to two human figures. They’re the assault specialists, and he’s the hero dog who never had to put his teeth into his job that night. I wonder what he’s up to these days?

Guest Editorial: Please Handlers, Don’t Push to Adopt Viable War Dogs Too Early. Lives Are at Stake.

Former dog handler Logan Black is together again with his bomb dog, Diego (Photo by Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News)

Earlier this week my Facebook page celebrated the reunion of Iraq war veteran and former dog handler Logan Black and his old bomb-sniffing dog, Diego. Thanks to the DOD’s military working dog adoption program, former Army Sgt. Logan Black was able to adopt 8-year-old yellow Lab after the dog was dispo’d from the MWD program. It was a win-win for everyone. The look on Diego’s face says it all.

Reunited, and it feels so good! (Photo by Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News)

Black had wanted to get his old dog back badly enough that when he heard Diego was retiring, he tried to get the adoption expedited by reaching out to media and by writing to a high-ranking military official who handles this kind of request. It’s similar to what former Marine handler Megan Leavey did to speed her former canine partner through the adoption process once he was dispo’d.

These dogs were already dispo’d, so I’m told the requests shaved only two or three weeks off the adoption process. (Adoption of dispo’d dogs has gone relatively warp speed in the last year thanks to huge improvements in the MWD adoption process – including a much-needed change to computerization of all records.) But a few of the dogs currently being sought for adoption by handlers are still very much active duty. They are viable working dogs who have more deployment capabilities ahead. There’s some fear that to make good public relations – or at least to avoid bad PR – the military will start retiring dogs who have a strong working future, putting those who need them at risk.

A former handler who is very much still in the thick of all this was communicating with me about his concerns yesterday. I asked him if he could write a short editorial. He did so under condition of anonymity, because in order to really state his opinion on this or just about anything officially, he’d have to go through loads of red tape. It’s a side we rarely hear from, and as much of a softy as I can be about keeping dogs and handlers together, he makes a compelling case for why working dogs should keep protecting the troops. I’m interested in your thoughts after reading it.

Guest Editorial by Former MWD Handler

Here’s a story that I like to think about when someone wants to take a perfectly healthy working dog and make them a pet, instead of allowing them to be a working dog..a Marine went out on multiple missions in Afghanistan and on every mission there was some sort of explosives detector dog who would accompany them and conduct explosives clearing sweeps along the way when necessary. The one mission this Marine went on and there was no MWD present, his convoy was hit and he lost both of his legs. Could this still have happened? Possibly, but I would think that having an asset who can save someone’s son or daughter from a life changing injury or death outweighs bringing the dog home to be your pet.

I’ve been down that road, I left my dog behind and did not think I would ever see her again because it was my time to move on and she was young and healthy. We spent almost two solid years working together, day in and day out, we went to Iraq together, on Secret Service missions together and worked the road on our home base together. I would go in on my days off to play with her and get her out of the kennel…it might almost be fair to say if given the option of keeping my girlfriend or my dog, my dog probably would have won out every time.

Having to leave my dog behind was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. However, she was a helluva dog, we used her for demonstrations to show how good a dog could work. I put tons of work into building her up, but when it was time to leave her behind I sat with her in her kennel crying because I knew she wouldn’t understand where her dad went, but with both dogs and humans alike time heals all wounds and I knew she needed to work because that’s what she loved to do…saving someone’s life was more important than having her as a pet to me.

I know there is another side that people look at and say give the dog away and buy a new one, but when I watch the

news and see how bad the economy is and how the government is trying to cut spending, why should they buy a new dog when they have one that works great. Thousands of dollars are spent to buy and train these dogs, why not put that money somewhere else so that these men and women can feel a little safer while serving their country. Its understandable to want your dog after going through all the things that come with deployments and dangers in the world, but at the end of the day these dogs should be out saving a life and not laying on a couch…at least not until they don’t want to work anymore.