- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Military war dogs in Iraq help save lives by detecting bombs and traps and finding injured civilians, but their noses are getting chapped from the desert heat.

When Amy Nichols, owner of Happy Tails Dog Spa in Tysons Corner, heard of the dogs’ tale, she bought some lip balm for their noses and set up a donation box in front of her store. The doggy day care also is collecting flying discs, knotted ropes and treats to send to the hundreds of dogs serving in Iraq.

Ms. Nichols had been looking for a cause to combine old-fashioned patriotism and dog care — a cause close to the hearts of many of the store’s customers.

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“People who take their dogs to day care are really generous and supportive,” Ms. Nichols said. “We hear about the dogs and get choked up about it. They’re all dog lovers here.”

By next week, she expects to send about 50 pounds of donations to the dog handlers in Iraq.

Schools and animal advocacy groups across the nation have held collection drives to help the dogs in Iraq, and the U.S. War Dogs Association has proposed a memorial for military working dogs and their handlers.

“It’s not important what’s in the package; it’s the idea of sending something to these men and women and their canines … that people in the states care about them, worry about them and wish them a safe journey,” said Ronald L. Aiello, president of the association and a former Marine scout handler in Vietnam.

The association also uses donations to send about 250 care packages per year to dog handlers. The packages might include beef jerky for the handler and vegetable jerky for the dog.

Ms. Nichols’ drive is not associated with the group. She contacted Master Sgt. Chris Burgess, operations chief for the 2nd Military Police Battalion at Camp Fallujah in Iraq, who compiled a list of the dogs’ needs.

“Thank you for all the support,” he said in an e-mail to Ms. Nichols. “I know the handlers and the dogs will appreciate it very much.”

Military working dogs — many of them German shepherds, Dutch shepherds or Belgian Malinois — have been used since World War II. The dogs keep U.S. troops safe, but also may remind troops of their pets at home and provide a morale boost, Mr. Aiello said.

Mr. Aiello’s dog in Vietnam, Stormy, was responsible for checking buildings for explosives before the Marines entered. The handlers are responsible for caring for the four-legged soldiers and relaying their messages to the troops.

“They’re fantastic animals,” he said. “They do a great job of alerting to danger.”

Military war dogs are performing the same service for U.S. troops in Iraq.

“The [breeds] are so smart, they need stuff to do,” Ms. Nichols said. “They love having a job.”

But they still need time to play and time to sharpen their skills, which is why they receive the flying discs, rubber toys and ropes. Their handlers asked for sunflower seeds, sugarless gum, energy drinks, crackers, meat sticks and beef jerky.

The three-year-old doggy day care is covering the shipping costs, which Ms. Nichols expects to reach $100 to $150.

“Look at what they’re asking for … Blistex and Goldfish crackers,” she said. “We could walk across the street right now and get it. It’s very basic stuff.”

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