May 18, 2017 10:54:45 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
More than 150 gathered at the Columbus Club at Columbus Air Force Base Wednesday for a retirement ceremony.
The program lasted about 40 minutes and the retiree was awarded a variety of commendations and certificates -- even one from the President of the United States.
All who attended were impressed, with the notable exception of the honoree, who spent most of the ceremony lying on the floor, gnawing on a rubber chew toy, oblivious to all the fuss.
Military Working Dog Rex/R746 (he'll be known simply as "Rex" as a civilian) was officially retired from his duties Wednesday morning. The transition came immediately following the ceremony and Rex will now be a family pet for his handler Senior Airman Kyle Jacob, his wife and 8-month old daughter.
"One of my superiors calls it Fort Living Room," said U.S. Army Veterinarian Capt. Erin Stein, whose clinic in Huntsville, Alabama, provides veterinary care for CAFB's six working dogs. "He's going to spend a lot of time on the couch and enjoy being a pet and a family dog."
An illustrious career
Rex, a 7-year-old German shepherd, came to CAFB in March 2012.
While many of the CAFB's military dogs have been deployed throughout the country and abroad, especially those trained for detection of explosives, Rex, trained to detect narcotics, has spent his five-plus years in and around the base, where he has worked with local law enforcement in K-9 training exercises and provided security at special events.
"He's a great dog," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Price, who serves as the base kennel master. "He's got a great personality. It's great to see him get a chance to go to a home and enjoy his retirement."
Price said while the length a dog can expect to serve as a military working dog varies, the typical career is about eight or nine years.
Some dogs work right up until the end, Price said, so retirements such as Wednesday's are always a happy occasion.
"We will do everything we can to get the dogs to where they can retire," Price said. "But a lot of these dogs have such a drive to work that they may keep working late into their lives."
Rex came after Jacob, and later Stein, began to suspect that he was in pain.
"He had some skeletal/muscular issues starting last summer," Stein said. "He's an incredible dog and he kept trying to work. We only identified his problems after noticing that he was having trouble sitting down when he alerted on narcotics.
"That's one of the incredible things about these working dogs and why it's such a privilege to work with them: They have such a high drive to please and do their job that they will overcome an incredible amount of difficulties and medical issues and pain before we even know they are hurting."
Jacob, who has served in the Air Force for six years, already has a new working dog, but he is grateful that Rex will still be a part of his life.
"I knew from the very first day I wanted to adopt him when he retired, if it worked out that way," Jacob said. "He's a bit of a goof-ball, even though he's a great working dog. I just knew he'd had the personality that would fit in."
As it is with humans, the transition from work to retirement can be difficult, especially for military dogs, who not only have a highly developed desire to work, but lack the socialization that other pets generally acquire.
"It can be difficult for some dogs," Price said. "Some don't do well with other dogs or with children. Sometimes, it's not a good fit. We're certainly not going to send a dog to a home where he eats up the family, so we begin the transition long before the dog is retired -- introducing to the family and the home, that sort of thing. We also stop the dog's aggressive training and begin winding down their work. Rex has sailed through the transition process with flying colors.
"He's used to working, so I'll probably have to hide his bones around the house for him to search for," Jacob said. "As far as the other things go, he hasn't destroyed the house or had any accidents, and my 8-month-old crawls all over him and it doesn't bother him at all. I think Rex likes the attention, to be honest."
Attention, yes. Ceremonies, not so much.
"I think he'll be happy to go home," Jacob said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]