Military working dogs have been used by the U.S. government since World War I, where pups like Sergeant Stubby, the “First American War Dog,” were on the front lines and in the trenches locating wounded soldiers, scouting, guarding or simply providing company as a mascot.
Since then, dogs have served a vital role in the armed forces.
Dogs like Pier, a nearly 8-year-old yellow lab, a retired pup who has been diagnosed maxillary fibrosarcoma in his upper jaw and nasal area.
It’s difficult to believe, but prior to 2000 with the passage of Robby’s Law, these brave dogs would be euthanized after their service, dubbed “obsolete equipment” and thought to be unable to adapt to civilian life. Thankfully, these heroes can now be adopted.
“We have been wanting to adopt Pier for a while,” wrote Marissa, Pier’s new mom, in an email. “(After his diagnosis)…we were asked by his handler if we were still willing to adopt him and we said ‘absolutely.’ This was still early in the diagnosis, but as time went on and the tumor grew they asked one more time if we would be willing to adopt and shoulder the expense. We didn’t hesitate.”
The cost of his treatment is estimated to be $10,000.
Pier had quite a distinguished career. He was initially trained at Lackland Air Force Base in the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Schoolhouse and began studying in the Specialized Search Dog program at the Marine Corps. He didn’t graduate because he was a bit “distractable,” sniffing everywhere and everything.
But handlers over at the U.S. Air Force had the perfect job title for him: explosives detection dog, where despite the seriousness of his new role, his training was fully based on loving affection and play.
While working, Pier served the president of the United States and the first lady and was “requested by name” by the Secret Service; he protected foreign dignitaries and served for six months in an undisclosed war location. In 2012, he sprained his back and cracked a vertebra after falling two stories while searching for explosives following the Aurora, Colo. movie theater massacre. He recovered, but after a sore tooth was pulled during a routine check-up, his vet discovered the cancer and he was adopted by Marissa and her family.
These dogs are our partners. We travel with them, sleep with them and live with them. They are our best friends. Every dog handler will agree that there is nothing we won’t do to protect our dogs.
— Michael Thomas, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class, Assistant Kennel Master for the 25th Military Policy Company, 25th Infantry Division
In an article about Pier, Maj. David A. Haigh of the U.S. Air Force, writes, “His work ethic is second to none! He could work longer than all of the other K9s. His fun demeanor would bring smiles to all the security professionals working long hours.”
Pier’s favorite things in retirement include enjoying his new cancer diet (limited ingredient, grain-free food), playing and chest rubs.
“His reward for finding explosives or clearing an area was usually his big red KONG,” Marissa said. “Since moving in with us, he gets any toy he wants. One of his favorites is a large dumbbell toy that his Grandma Katie and Grandpa Terry and their black lab, Jigs (“Uncle Jigs”), gave him for Christmas. Because of the radiation, he cannot play with it yet; his mouth is too tender — though out of all the toys, the one he tried for was the dumbbell. ”
Pier is currently receiving care at the Veterinary Treatment Hospital at Colorado State University. The tumor has been removed and at its early stages, this type of cancer can be responsive to radiation hyperthermia therapy.
“The radiologist is hopeful that the radiation will kill the cancer, especially since we had the tumor removed,” Marissa said. “However, we won’t know for 4-6 months when we get another CT scan to check to see if the cancer cells remain and are beginning to multiply again or if he’s free of cancer.”
“For the first time in his life he gets to be a dog,” she writes. “He has never slept in a bed or on the carpet by the fire. He has never just been a lapdog on the couch. He has slept in a kennel his whole life. He only knows work. He only knows justice and action. We are so proud to have Pier in our family and pay him back for saving countless lives and working countless hours and days to get the job done. Pier…Mission Complete.”
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