- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) - When the time comes for Sarah Clark to send her foster dog Ggwendolyn back to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, she’ll find solace in knowing her Belgian Malinois has a job to do and a purpose to fulfill.

Officials with the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center at the Air Force base were at Fort Hood recently to bring seven Belgian Malinois and Dutch shepherd puppies to foster families who will socialize the dogs. Once the puppies are 7 months old, they will return to Lackland to enter into a training program.

Capt. Dawn Hull, of the Public Health Command District, Fort Hood Veterinary Services, said all military working dogs from Lackland have a double letter at the beginning of their first names.

Clark, who served as a military police officer in the Army and was in the law enforcement field for more than two decades, said she’s fostered puppies with Lackland in the past.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” she told the Killeen Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/1ztQ5nB). “If I can give something back and help soldiers downrange and here in the garrison environment, then the more the better. I would do it over and over again.”

Clark said while it will be hard to see Ggwendolyn go, she knows the dog has a job to do.

“It’s hard to give them back when it’s time because you do get attached,” she said. “I know, though, that they go to a better place where they are needed and they have a job to do. They take care of soldiers. So, it’s worth it.”

Tracy Cann, breeding program foster consultant for the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center at Lackland, said the center breeds about 100 dogs annually that go into the Defense Department system.

The puppies are fostered out to families at about 6 weeks old to be socialized.

“If they grow up in kennels they’re not environmentally solid,” Cann said. “They’re scared of people or aggressive toward people. When they grow up with a family, they’re environmentally stimulated in a variety of areas, so they come back ready to work.”

Once the dogs return to Lackland, they receive about six months of training, and then enter into a formal dog training school for another 90 to 120 days of training where they are trained to be explosive detection and patrol dogs.

“Detection is our goal; patrol is kind of the gravy on top,” Cann said. “Once the dogs are trained and ready to go to work, they go to all branches of service.”

Renae Johnson, volunteer coordinator at Fort Hood, helps find families to foster the puppies.

“They have some guidelines. They have to have a home with a yard,” she said. “They don’t like the families to have small children.”

Johnson said people who want to foster fill out an application that is sent to the Defense Department and then officials perform site visits to determine if a family is a good fit.

Johnson, who is fostering Fflint II, said she fosters because “the end result is an amazing dog.”

“I’ve been able to raise a puppy and see him grow into a working dog, deploy and do all of these amazing things,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘Wow, that was my dog.’”

Johnson said she, like Clark, gets attached to the dogs, but “it’s in their blood” to do the work they do with the military.

“What happens is you love the dog, and you love him so much, but at seven months you can’t stimulate their minds and physical needs enough,” she said. “At that point, it’s like ‘I love you, but it’s time for you to go to work now.’”

Once the dogs have gone on to fulfill their duties, Johnson said she still calls to check up on them and “see how my pups doing.”

“It’s a good feeling,” she said. “It makes you proud to see your pup go on and do all these great things and do them really well.”

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Information from: Killeen Daily Herald, http://www.kdhnews.com

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