By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
She tosses the ball high and far and watches as Mishka bounds across the terrain, striving to capture the red sphere in his mouth before it hits the ground. Mishka misses the ball this time, but picks it up, takes it back, lies on his back with his limbs extended and accepts a tummy rub as a consolation prize. Mishka then leaps back to his paws, eager for another chance at the ball.
“He has a lot of energy; I have to go home and let him out at lunch every day,” said Maj. Maria Moss, 19th Component Maintenance Squadron commander.
Moss is talking about her newly adopted dog of course, and while she’s been a canine lover for some time, Mishka is even more special to her because of his background as a military working dog.
Mishka was adopted by Moss through the Military Working Dog Adoption program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The program aims to provide the best possible home to MWDs who were either retired from service or couldn’t make it through the extensive training regimen.
Moss’s interest in adopting a MWD stems from January 2011, when she read an article about the program in Airman Magazine while deployed in Iraq. Moss said being able to watch MWDs in action on deployments gave her a great appreciation for the work they do, and she was pleased to see there was a program for adopting them.
“When I was deployed as a squadron commander in Iraq, I saw the therapy dogs attached to the medical clinic in Balad, and it was great to see that we had this kind of program,” said Moss. “I don’t think there’s been a deployment where I haven’t seen a dog in some capacity.”
On her most recent deployment there was an instance where she saw a MWD detect an explosive on a sanitation truck. The explosive was safely disarmed, and no damage was caused, all because of the dog’s hard work. Seeing these dogs in action made her want to adopt one even more.
“We were all so glad that dog was there,” she said. “It was kind of funny, because after that everybody started writing home asking for people to send them dog treats and toys. God knows we were all grateful for that dog.”
She intends to take Mishka as a volunteer at the office of Veteran Affairs and other places once or twice a month to spend time with veterans and retirees. Moss said she thinks interaction with dogs can be therapeutic for people.
“A couple of years ago I read an article about service members who had service dogs, and those dog’s jobs were to keep them calm, those dog were a great comfort to them,” she said.
Spending time with a MWD can give service members comfort and companionship, said Moss.
“Just being able to play or lie down on the floor and pet him can give someone comfort,” she said. “It’s a very basic and very human thing.”
The process to acquire Mishka was more involved than a typical adoption from the pound, said Moss. Adoption through the MWD adoption program can take anywhere from 12-18 months because applicants are screened for a variety of issues ranging from whether or not they have children to if they have other animals. Moss said she had several friends who asked her why she didn’t just go to the pound and adopt, but she said there is something special about a MWD.
“It was worth it, easily,” she said about the extensive application process. “I think this is a great program and couldn’t be happier with this guy.”
Moss picked up Mishka from Lackland Oct. 17. She said he’s adapted well to the new environment. One of the foremost concerns for MWDs no longer working is how they find meaningful interaction. The dogs are trained to work and need a sense of purpose, and so far Mishka has done great. Moss said she’s having a great time taking care of him, even if it takes a lot of effort.
“He’s unbelievably loyal; it’s taken him a few days to get used to the new environment, but he’s adapted very well to me,” she said. “He’s got a lot of energy and a desire to work. Those are his greatest characteristics.”
Taking Mishka back to her office after playing with the ball outside, Moss pours water into his bowl and watches as he drinks. After drinking a lot of water, the dog paces around the room looking for the red ball. Gnawing on the red ball, he finally lies down by Moss. She pets the dog as he rolls onto his back once again, waiting for a tummy rub.
“That’s a good boy,” she said.