Military Dogs Enjoy Brighter Future After Service

Originally published on August 3, 2011 12:19 am

The military's four-legged warriors now have a more hopeful future in store.

Military working dogs were once euthanized when their service days were over.

But, their fate is changing as military and civilian families pressure the Defense Department to make it easier for handlers to adopt their canine colleagues.

Looking out over Camp Pendleton's K-9 training field in California, Marine Cpl. Daniel Cornier shares stories about Chaak, the dog he deployed with to Afghanistan.

His words are halting and emotional.

"He's...pretty trustworthy. I can trust him. Pretty much trust him with my life," he says.

Chaak is a bomb-detecting dog who walked in front of the Marine during his missions.

"I spent almost three years with him...you get really attached to him. You just don't want to let go," he says.

Military working dogs often serve multiple deployments with different handlers, called "giving up the leash."

Staff Sgt. Michael Harris had to give up his partner, a German Shepherd named Axel, after his deployment in 2006.

At the sight of Harris, Axel — now 8 years old — spins in a couple circles and then presses his body against the bars of the kennel. He never takes his eyes off the tall Marine.

"There's always going to be a bond with me and this dog," Harris says. "The time that we've spent and everything that we've seen, and seen through each other's eyes, and all the accomplishments that me and him have had together."

After his assignment with Harris, Axel served an additional two deployments. Now that his combat days are over, Harris says he's talked to Axel's current handler about adoption.

The adoption priority process is to first use the dog as a training aid for other handlers. Law enforcement agencies are second in line. Then, families who have lost a loved one in combat, followed by former handlers, and the general public.

Harris says another dog, Rocky, has seen three combat deployments. Rocky has lost the use of his hind legs.

"He's a really good dog," he says. "So he will make a great pet for someone in the household. And [he has] that drive to still want to play and live out the rest of his life, and hopefully have a happy life."

To assist his chances for adoption, Rocky is getting outfitted with a dog wheelchair. It didn't take long for the four-legged veteran to get the hang of it.

"Now he can actually get around and move," Harris says.

In a short time, Rocky is chasing his favorite ball as four Marines, including Cornier, watch proudly.

Recently, Cornier's long-awaited adoption came through. The Marine brought Chaak, his bomb-sniffing companion, home.

"I'd say he's doing pretty well. He slept about 10 hours yesterday. He ate — gave him a big old steak — and that was his day," Cornier says.

Cornier will be re-deployed later this year. He's already talked to his mom in Florida about caring for Chaak.

"She has a big, giant backyard, and she'll spoil him rotten," he says.

She's promised her son she'll take good care of Chaak, until Cornier comes home.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Military working dogs were in the spotlight after the killing of Osama bin Laden because a dog was part of the Navy SEALs' mission. We have a story now on what happens when those dogs' service days are over. In the past, they were euthanized. Now, as Gloria Hillard explains, the Department of Defense allows for a more hopeful future.

GLORIA HILLARD: Sitting on a folding chair overlooking Camp Pendleton's K-9 training field, Marine Corporal Daniel Cornier is sharing stories about Chaak, the dog he deployed with to Afghanistan.

DANIEL CORNIER: It's like a friendship, you know what I mean? It's...

HILLARD: His words are somewhat halting.

CORNIER: He is pretty trustworthy. I can trust him and - pretty much trust him with my life.

HILLARD: You see, Chaak is a bomb-detecting dog and walked in front of Cornier every step before his Marine.

CORNIER: I spent almost three years with him, you know? And you get really attached to him, you know? You just don't want to let go.

HILLARD: Military working dogs often serve multiple deployments with different handlers. It's called giving up the leash. That's what Staff Sergeant Michael Harris did after his deployment with a German shepherd named Axel in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

MICHAEL HARRIS: What's up, buddy?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

HILLARD: At the sight of Harris, Axel, now 8 years old, spins in a couple circles and then presses his body against the bars of the kennel, all the while not taking his eyes off the tall Marine.

HARRIS: I mean, there's always going to be a bond with me and this dog just because of the time that we've spent and everything that we've seen and seen through each other's eyes, and all the accomplishments that me and him both have had together.

HILLARD: After the dog's assignment with Staff Sergeant Harris, Axel served an additional two deployments. Now, his combat days are over. Harris says he's had conversations with Axel's current handler about adopting the dog.

HARRIS: If for any reason he can't, then I would try and make some kind of arrangements to adopt him.

HILLARD: Rocky, a 10-year-old German shepherd with a gray muzzle, will need a special home.

HARRIS: He's definitely seen some tough times. Ain't that right, Rocky?

HILLARD: Staff Sergeant Harris says Rocky has seen three combat deployments and has lost the use of his hind legs.

HARRIS: He's a really good dog. So he will make a great pet for someone in the household and to have that drive to still want to play and live out the rest of his life and hopefully have a happy life.

HILLARD: To assist his chances for adoption, Rocky is getting outfitted with a dog wheelchair today.

HARRIS: You know, it's a little cord that attaches here, but we can find it. It still needs a little adjusting.

HILLARD: It didn't take long for the four-legged veteran to get the hang of it.

HARRIS: Now, he can actually get around and move and stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

HILLARD: In a short time, Rocky is chasing his favorite ball as four Marines, including Corporal Cornier, watch proudly. And this is the time to finish the story of what happened to Cornier's bomb-sniffing dog Chaak. The day before this interview, the long-awaited adoption went through. The Marine brought Chaak home.

CORNIER: I'd say he's doing pretty well. I mean, he slept for, like, 10 hours yesterday. He ate - gave him a big old steak - and that was his day. He's out.

HILLARD: Corporal Cornier will be redeployed later this year. He's already talked to his mom in Florida.

CORNIER: She has a big, giant backyard, and, you know, she'll spoil him rotten.

HILLARD: She's promised her son she'll take good care of Chaak until he comes home. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.