- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (AP) - The day Bill and Kay Hoffman found out that their 23-year-old son, Alex, was going to be a dog handler for the U.S. Marine Corps, they began praying for the dog that would be by their son’s side.

“We prayed for a dog with a good nose, good ears and one who would be a loyal companion,” Kay Hoffman said.

The Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/1BMgP0p ) reports what the Hoffmans didn’t know was what kind of addition their son’s military working dog would be to their family and just how special their bond truly is.

Today, Fenji, a former Marine Corps working dog with an honorary Purple Heart for her service, is spending her retirement from the military with the Hoffmans at their home in Friendswood as she waits for their son to return from active duty overseas this summer.

Kay and Bill Hoffman have become Fenji’s caretakers after she was retired from active duty, the family said.

Alex Hoffman had been Fenji’s third handler for six months, but the other two handlers’ families decided they did not want to be her caretakers, Kay Hoffman said.

Before Fenji worked alongside Alex Hoffman as a bomb-sniffing dog, she was injured in a 2010 IED explosion in Afghanistan that killed her first handler Cpl. Max Donahue, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

She was right by his side when it happened.

During the explosion, and while on active duty, Fenji suffered a blown-out eardrum and damage to her eyes from debris in the explosion.

Her injuries from the explosion have left her needing regular medical care, which includes eye drops she must receive several times a day. There’s a chance she could go blind, but the eye drops seem to be helping, Kay Hoffman said.

“There was no question she was going to come live with us,” Kay Hoffman said as she ran her hand along Fenji’s jet black coat. “She was by his side, ready to give her life for him - she’s meant so much to us for so long.”

Today, the 8-year-old German shepherd has made herself quite at home in Friendswood, but there definitely were some adjustments as she transitioned from active duty to civilian life, the Hoffmans said. Part of that transition included getting her to the family’s home from a military base in California, where she lived with other retired military working dogs.

Kay Hoffman went to California in August to get Fenji from the military base. Hoffman, along with her sister, brought Fenji back to Texas, she said. That was only her second time to ever meet Fenji.

“We weren’t sure how she was going to behave,” Kay Hoffman said laughing. “We were kind of all on pins and needles about it.”

But because Fenji had already been on an airplane several times traveling to and from Afghanistan, she handled the trip like a pro, she said.

What she has had to learn to become accustomed to are things like doorbells, treats and what it means when someone knocks on the door, Bill Hoffman said.

“She still gets a little nervous with some things, but she’s learning,” he said.

The Hoffmans think Fenji has a form of post-traumatic stress disorder and, just like anyone who has served in a war zone, is having to learn how to be a civilian.

“She’s never had to not work until recently,” Kay Hoffman said. “The military was her job. Now she’s learning how to relax.”

When she first came to the Hoffman’s home, she barely wagged her tail, now she wags it all the time, Kay Hoffman said.

“She also didn’t know what a treat was because that’s not something they reward them with in the military. Now she definitely knows what treats are,” she said.

One of her favorite things to do in her retirement is collect large sticks when she goes on walks each morning with Kay Hoffman and take naps on one of her several beds that are setup throughout the house.

She even has one right next to Kay Hoffman’s side of the bed.

“So I can pet her through the night,” she said. “She sometimes gets a little antsy at night.”

Now, Fenji and the Hoffmans are eagerly waiting for their son’s return home. Once he returns from active duty, he will be in the reserves for another three years.

“I’m really looking forward to her seeing Alex again,” Kay Hoffman said. “Fenji is a really special dog, and we’re so blessed to have her in our lives.”


Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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