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MacDill retires three military working dogs

TAMPA

Conny has cataracts and glaucoma but a nose that knows no bounds. In Iraq, during one of five Mideast deployments, she found 175 pounds of explosives under a hut. • The 10-year-old military working dog has sniffed out improvised explosive devices, mortar shells, AK-47s and sniper rifles, making war a little less hazardous for humans. • Her next mission? • Retirement.

"I've got her a pink collar and everything," said Senior Airman Brandon Denton of the 6th Security Forces Squadron, who served as Conny's handler and will now keep her as a pet.

Three longtime military dogs — German shepherds with more than 200 combined dog years of service — retired Thursday at MacDill Air Force Base, after deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria and Germany. In all, the dogs have served on 41 Secret Service missions, base officials report.

Jago, 10, went home with handler Brett Carson, also a senior airman at MacDill.

"He's the first and only dog I've had in the military, and I decided to give him a good life after the service," said Carson, 27.

Haris, 11, left with a retired flight surgeon and his wife, Randel and Shelli Patty, who drove from Baton Rouge, La., to adopt him.

Adoption of military working dogs, whether by police agencies, handlers or civilians, is permitted under Robby's Law, signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Many go to handlers.

Haris' handler, Air Force Sgt. Jarvis Beauchamp, 24, got orders to Italy before Haris was put up for adoption. They've been together three years. "He's taught me a lot," Beauchamp said.

He knows how many allergies Haris has: 36, including dust mites and meat. He knows the dog takes a supplement to prevent hair loss.

Beauchamp will miss the way Haris pouts by sitting with his back turned.

Tears? "Not yet," the sergeant said. "I'm not saying they're not coming."

He's comforted knowing Haris is headed to a good home, with an open invitation to visit. This is the fourth military dog adopted by the Pattys, who take in four-legged heroes one at a time, letting their last years be in a home with a pool and a choice of four orthopedic dog beds. Haris will get 2-mile walks morning and night, Shelli Patty said.

Jago, like the others, logged thousands of patrols. He also found a 4-year-old child missing from base housing.

It was only recently that keepers realized Jago was blind in the left eye, apparently since birth.

"He has a great nose and ears," Senior Airman Carson said.

Still, the disability was enough to end Jago's career.

Like many of the handlers, Carson grew up with dogs.

So did Denton. Some people join the military for jets. Denton joined for dogs, he jokes.

He said his biggest challenge will be to get Conny to stop working and just be a dog.

Thursday morning, her new life began.

Scores of humans gathered for a ceremony.

Conny stood the straightest during the Star-Spangled Banner, her eyes darting around the room as the dogs and handlers faced the audience.

O'er the ramparts we watched …

Haris yawned.

And the rocket's red glare ...

A camera clicked. Conny's head swung. Jago turned his good eye toward Haris, then back to the crowd.

There were speeches and applause. Soon, there would be dog treats shaped like cupcakes, hypoallergenic for Haris' sake.

One by one, the dog handlers of MacDill Air Force Base marched down a center aisle.

They stopped. They paused.

They looked at three dogs.

And they saluted.

Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

MacDill retires three military working dogs 07/12/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 13, 2012 12:58am]

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