MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Station military policemen said goodbye to the first dog to be adopted from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., through the Law Enforcement Give Away Program March 10.
Laika, a 12-year-old Belgium malinois that specialized in explosives detection, retired from her Marine Corps duties after nine years of service to the air station and moved into her new home out in town through the help of the program.
The program, approved by an act of Congress Nov. 6, 2000, allows law agencies, dog handlers and other qualified individuals to adopt working dogs that are not fit for duty and would otherwise be euthanized or returned to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas for training aid roles.
“We begin evaluating a dog when it gets to be eight or nine years old. Once a dog has reached a certain age, or has declined in health or proficiency, we take the dogs out of training and we have more of a playing, loving relationship,” said Sgt. James Campion, Provost Marshal’s Office K-9 kennel master. “We can see the dog’s attitude change at that point and they begin to bond with us even more.”
While still ready and proficient enough to continue serving, Laika’s body, which is 84 dog-years old, was no longer up to the task.
“Laika had serious arthritis and minor hip dysplasia,” said Campion, a native of Cape Coral, Fla. “She is twelve years old and ready to retire.”
Although medical issues forced Laika into retirement, her new owner is prepared to meet all her needs.
“The level of care that we give these dogs allows them to be in our program for so long,” said Campion. “We make sure that people looking to adopt these dogs know that they will require more veterinary care than a normal, young dog.”
Dogs can’t be adopted by just anyone though. Station K-9 handlers make sure that their former partners go to an appropriate home with experienced pet owners.
“The adoption program allows the adoption of military working dogs to people who meet certain criteria,” said Campion. “We make sure they don’t have any other pets, they have a nice place with a fenced back yard, they aren’t first-time pet owners, and we check for a few other things.”
Although handlers have the first chance to adopt their partners, it’s not always possible to bring them home.
“Laika was my first dog. We were a team for fifteen months. She was very well trained, which helped me to become fully trained,” said Cpl. Ben Macdonell, PMO K-9 chief trainer. “She was an all-around good friend. We had a very tight relationship.
“I was going to adopt Laika, but I live in the barracks where pets aren’t allowed,” explained Macdonell, a Los Alamos, N.M., native.
As attached as handlers become with their canine friends, Campion said he is confident Laika will enjoy her new owner and home away from the air station.
“She’s a dog lover, and she especially loves police dogs,” Campion said of Laika’s new owner. “Laika will have a good home.”
Before Laika could be released, paperwork had to be cleared through Lackland AFB, and Laika had to be detrained.
“Once we are given the okay, we begin detraining the dogs by taking away bite work and socializing the dog, preparing it for life after work,” said Campion.
Even though Laika, who had five handlers through the course of her career, is no longer with the Marines she served beside, her legacy remains.
“She was a very good, loyal dog and she was protective of her handler,” said Macdonell. “We checked out several bomb threats in the City of Yuma, and back when we assisted the U.S. Border Patrol, we tracked down illegal aliens.”
“She also did a lot of work for the Secret Service and she worked at the Super Bowl in 2001,” added Campion.
K-9 handlers are sad to part with their dogs, but happy that the animals can retire to enjoy the good life.
“I think the program is great,” said Macdonell. “These dogs serve their country the same as these Marines do. They deserve to have a good life afterwards, just like Marines.”