MWD Heroes Live Forever By Debbie Kandoll
January 3, 2010, 3:35 pm. I stepped back in shock and looked at the still form of the exquisite German Shepherd laying on the Vet's table before me. His eyes were peaceful and partially closed. I stroked his soft, shining fur and caressed the black diamond I had kissed on so many occasions realizing that even his forehead was now cold. He looked to be only sleeping, and I vainly watched his side expecting to see the methodical rise and fall of his breathing. Only a few moments before, my darling Benny, the Great and Mighty Warrior, had just valiantly fought--and lost-- his last battle to live on. My Benny…aka MWD Benny B163 (USAF, Ret.)…breathed no more, his amazing heart eternally stilled by the last massive heart attack from which he could not recover. Is there anything one can say or do at a time like that? I hugged him and kissed him, hoping with all my heart that his spirit would feel the depth of my love and devotion for him one last time…as he crossed the Rainbow Bridge perhaps walking obediently at his Angel guide's left side? I pondered how our time together could so suddenly be over. One day less than two full years this amazing retired Military Working Dog lived with us. Our Benny filled every day with joy and love…and SO MANY smiles! How I had longed to adopt a Hero K-9 and give him the comforts of a Forever Home after his life of service to our great Nation.
My husband was supportive of the idea, but he also asked the logical questions as husbands are known to do. I especially remember him asking "Honey, this dog is 10 years old? Isn't that kind of old for a German Shepherd? What if he doesn't live long?" Funny how one's words come back to haunt or console or enlighten as the case may be. I retorted gallantly "Honey, if this dog…this Benny…we are adopting only lives with us for two weeks our mission will be accomplished! We will have given a home to a MWD Hero…a deserving K-9 soldier! After all…it is NOT about what Benny can do for us…but about what we can do for Benny!"
Oh, yes! I had it all figured out. What I didn't figure on was the ocean of love and devotion Benny would accord me. How he chose me as his person, and every minute I thought I was taking care of him, Benny's objective was to love, care for and defend me…his "mom"! I have had many German Shepherds and loved each one. It is a noble breed whose loyalty, intelligence and devotion are unsurpassed. Turns out, I only thought I knew about GSDs because Benny displayed a level of commitment to me that I had NEVER before experienced. I began to realize he was viewing me as his HANDLER…and I felt pressed to match the level of excellence and devotion with which Benny regarded me! I felt unworthy of such devotion. It was truly, the most unconditional form of love I will ever experience on this earth. My thoughts turned to Military Working Dog handlers across the ages and wars. This depth of devotion was something that they, too, had experienced as bullets whizzed by and bombs exploded around them. It is an indescribable connection of almost knowing each other's thoughts before they flash through the mind. There are not enough platitudes or sufficient vocabulary to adequately describe this oneness of two distinct creatures: Man and Dog. To witness such a devotion as this from my Benny left me humbled and wondering if I could be an excellent enough partner to deserve such love. Though we faced no enemy or fought no battles together, I was experiencing a miniscule glimpse of what handlers and their MWDs and policemen and their K-9s share daily! Was I worthy? Could I ever be? I still can't answer that question. What I can say is I gave Benny my heart every day of his life. We were not separated for more than three days in the two years my Gallant Benny lived with us. I was forced to leave him when I flew to Italy to rescue another brave hero MWD--one of Benny's "brothers-in-arms"--so he, too, could have a wonderful retirement.
In my written reflections, I feel as though I have already shared Benny's greatest life accomplishment: his unbelievable capacity to love. Benny brightened and gladdened countless lives as he continued to give in retirement as a certified Therapy Dog. Benny was not content to languish by the fireplace …he wanted a job to do! Truth be known, I believe that all Benny's Therapy Dog "Missions" and his role as the Official Ambassador of Military Working Dog Adoptions gave him great purpose and a reason to "keep on keeping on" ! Benny's greatest joy seemed to be in giving of himself!
Only because of my special Benny, I met countless wonderful people all across this nation I would never have known. These people, who were awed to meet a genuine, retired MWD that they could actually pet and hug, to this day continue to enrich my life. I am grateful for the comfort of their friendship and support. MWD Benny B163's job in the US Air Force was Narcotics Detection and Patrol. He was one of the best as he performed that function throughout his years of military service. Though he still remembered his former training in retirement, MWD Benny B163 (Ret.) rose to even higher levels of unpredicted expertise in his detection abilities: he was a supreme "Heart Detector"! You see, for the thousands of folks Benny met--even those who were reluctant about "big dogs-- he had the uncanny ability to win hearts and to touch people deeply. Things which I consider "miraculous" happened when Benny went visiting! I witnessed a hospitalized Veteran in Missouri who had not uttered a single intelligible word in six months talk to Benny as the nursing staff wept with joy in disbelief. And on an Alabama elementary school visit, a 10 year old autistic boy who had not spoken all school year, clearly and distinctly uttered" Benny! Dog! Good! Good dog!" Tears flowed from his teacher's eyes, as she asked the incredulous principal if they, too, could get a Therapy Dog for their school! I am certain that recollections of record-making drug busts fade from memory over time, but Benny's legacy will forever live on in all the hearts and minds he captured. Of this I am convinced: two weeks, two years or a lifetime could not have been enough to share with my treasured, precious boy! Benny, I am honored to have been your last handler and "mom". I loved you with all that I am. When my life on this planet is over, and it is my time to cross the Rainbow Bridge, I look forward to gathering you in my arms and kissing you for every day we've been apart.. Rest in peace, my beloved MWD Benny B163. You are alive and well in all our hearts…for MWD Heroes live forever!