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Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2012

Soldier hopes to adopt military dog

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The Fort Benning kennel is about to send a veteran military working dog into retirement, but she figures to wind up in the lap of a Soldier from the Warrior Transition Battalion.

Arka, an 8-year-old German shepherd, will be discharged from the 209th Military Police Detachment as soon as her paperwork clears Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which supplies the animals to every military installation and handles all retirements. It also arranges for adoptions.

In this case, detachment officials said an effort has begun to place Arka in the custody of Staff Sgt. Alexis Scott, a former military police officer who befriended her after being tasked to the kennel in August 2010 through the WTB. The packet has been sent to San Antonio, but it could take another five months for the process to unfold.

“We’re still in the process of gathering some documentation and working with the vet clinic and Lackland,” said Staff Sgt. James Tolley, NCOIC of plans and training for the 209th’s military working dog section. “But it’s time to let her retire to somebody’s couch, so she can enjoy retirement instead of being worked.”

Arka, who’s been at Fort Benning since 2007, never deployed but worked as a narcotics dog, assisting on patrols and providing support to the garrison, he said. She had five different handlers over the course of her career but failed to make her last certification in December.

She suffers from hip dysplasia, a degenerative condition that causes painful arthritis in the joints. Tolley said her form can be treated with medication. She remains at the kennel but is no longer on duty.

Collectively, the section’s personnel take care of Arka and make sure she gets exercise, he said. But she’s developed a special relationship with Scott, who deployed twice to Iraq, the last time in January 2009 as a paralegal with the 25th Infantry Division.

Scott said she was involved in a noncombat-related training accident, which resulted in several aggravated injuries. She’s had five surgeries since arriving at WTB more than two years ago, including a spinal procedure. Scott also deals with a range of behavioral and mental health issues.

Through WTB, she requested a placement at the kennel.

“I was open for whatever, even if it was just being a pooper scooper. I just wanted to help,” she recalled. “At that time, I was still in a wheelchair, so I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything. Now, I assist with admin tasks. I help with feeding the dogs. I give Arka a bath and brush her.”

Scott gets around fine today but occasionally has to use a cane for balance. She still faces pain issues as well. After Arka was pulled off duty two months ago, Tolley contacted her to see if she was interested in adopting the dog.

“I was floored — this was the best news I could get in the New Year. She’s so laid back and friendly and sweet,” Scott said. “When dogs don’t have a handler, they basically stay in their run all day. They’re at the mercy of someone taking extra time to give them a bath, take ’em for a walk or play with them. It was really great for me emotionally to get this opportunity to work with her and help her, and at the same time she was helping me.

“I really did grow to love this canine and developed such a close bond with her. It was like having a friend, even though she couldn’t talk back to me. I felt I could confide in her. On days I’d be at the kennel and start having one of my emotional breakdowns, I’d go and sit with her. And she’d lay across my lap, as if to tell me everything would be OK. I could tell she sensed something was wrong, and that made me care for her that much more.”

Over the years, Arka was just as diligent when it came to the mission, Tolley said.

“She’s had a few drug finds on the installation and done gate checks and searches of barracks for a few commanders,” he said. “She’s been an asset to the unit. … She’s been one of our workhorses as a narcotics dog.”

Scott said she also hopes to retire sometime this spring. If everything works out, the plan is to take Arka back home to Oakland, Calif.

“These dogs are like Soldiers. They’ve veterans just like we are,” she said. “They deserve the opportunity to get out of the Army and live a good life as well. I hope I can do that for her.”

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