My “day job” is writing books–and supplying feature stories for a small neighborhood paper owned by The Boerne Star. This article appeared in the August 2014 edition.
It all began with a trip to San Antonio’s Top Brass Military and Tactical Store.
“My son is in ROTC and we went to the shop for him,” said Mona Gutierrez. “They had a Belgian Malinois puppy there, and my kids loved it. We learned that a number of the staff at the store had helped raised these dogs for military service through the Military Working Dog program at Lackland. My daughter was homeschooled at the time and she really wanted to do that, too, as a project.”
Several months passed.
“I then started the foster application process in secret. When it was time for the home visit, I told the kids that we were going to do it. They were so excited.”
The Gutierrez family received their first pup, Ppadriac, in February 2013. The double letters in the animal’s name signifies that he came from Lackland Airforce Base. Some of the dogs are named in memory of fallen soldiers.
Ppadriac lived in Leon Springs, doing puppy things and visiting Lackland for training, until mid-July of last year. Then the Gutierrez family packed up his military-issue gear and took Ppadriac to Lackland.
The drop-off process sounds much like a family leaving a child at a college residence hall or basic training, with the dog willing and eager to go to the kennel and the foster family experiencing mixed emotions. “When they get that big and powerful, they’re itching to go,” said Gutierrez, “and it’s really probably time. It’s just like a teenager.”
Foster families like the Gutierrezes keep up with one another and receive periodic updates on their former pups via a private online community.
“Ppadriac’s litter was held back in training because of sequestration, but I heard that he’s passed the bomb detection test. He could go out now for further training or placement.”
Belgian Malinois dogs are high-needs, driven, focused, and stubborn animals. They have a nickname—“Maligator”—because of their fierce teeth. As family pets they can be a challenge. Yet the breed is uniquely suited for becoming the “life-saving military personnel” that the government requires of them. These are dogs raised and trained for service, and they spend most of their active duty years in the company of humans. Therefore, patient and loving foster families play a crucial role in their development.
Gutierrez described the period following the arrival of their second puppy (Vvasco) in early 2014 as being comparable to time after the arrival of a newborn. “It’s different every day. You wake up to put them out at night. You make sure that you don’t give them too much water before bed.”
Beyond that, early weeks are spent loving and nurturing the pups. “The military doesn’t want us to train them or even take them out of the house for the first few weeks, until they’ve had their shots.”
Around four months, the animals require more structure. “So you have the baby stage,” said Gutierrez. “And then you have the toddler phase. There are monthly training sessions at Lackland and one-on-one training sessions if you’re having trouble with a pup. You’re never meant to feel alone as a foster family and you never do. The support from Lackland is incredible . . .. They provide kennels, toys, a leash, food, and all other supplies, too.”
Gutierrez said the feeling of satisfaction makes the experience worthwhile. For her being a foster parent to a pup “is a calling almost. You feel like you are helping your country. That is the first draw for us as a family.”
Demand for foster families is high. All participants must live within a two-hour drive of the base to participate in the program, making Leon Springs an ideal location. For more information on becoming a foster family through the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Breeding Program, visit Facebook.com/DoDMWDBreedingProgram/info.