In honor of Veteran’s Day, we’ve invited author Ronie Kendig to share about one of the veterans in her life, a retired military working dog named VVolt who also made a special guest appearance in her latest series, The Tox Files.
Researching and writing about military working dogs and living with them are two very different realities. I’d spent over a year reading every article and book I could find on military working dogs at the time—and that was back in 2011 before the massive swell of interest about MWDs occurred, so there wasn’t as much online or in books as you can find today.
But I’d attended events with them and talked to handlers. But nothing prepared me for the day when my application to adopt a retired military working dog landed me at Joint Base San Antonio (Lackland Air Force Base), sitting in the room with the adoption coordinator.
In stalked VVolt N629, an eighty-two pound Belgian Malinois, muscles rippling in an incredible display of his strength, agility, and experience. He came in, scenting—working. My thoughts of having a MWD as a *pet vanished. He was—and is—not a pet. He is a retired military working dog with instincts and training intact.
VVolt had been deployed to Kuwait, did security detail for both the POTUS and the FLOTUS, and was a training dog for upcoming handlers when he was injured during training work. He is the dog in the first two demonstrations of this training video (but not the third).
My then twenty-year old daughter took VVolt’s lead from the handler—and that raw muscle literally dragged her over the vinyl floor without hesitation. We laughed, but also realized at that moment the power of the MWD we were taking home. VVolt bonded to me immediately, and I think mainly because I was the one who stepped up and used his commands and helped him find familiar ground within civilian life.
We made a few mistakes in that first year, growing comfortable and perhaps a bit complacent. The learning curve was sharp because we owned a dog with aggression training, one trained to act—not bark—at a threat. Nobody outside our immediate family entered our home without a strict routine that helped VVolt accept their intrusion. Nobody looked at him in the eyes or reached toward him suddenly. During fireworks and thunderstorms, which set him off, we played loud music or television in every room of the house to help drown the noise so he would be less vigilant.
It took 2.5 years for VVolt to first kiss (lick) my face. I was so shocked the first time, that I went very still and let him sniff me, then he gave me another kiss. It’s been five years and VVolt is now very ready with the kisses.
He’s a bit of a goof, a very powerful goof at that, and his intensity and drive never completely vanish. When people claim they’re “dog people” or have a way with dogs, my defenses fly up because that tends to be their way of ignoring and violating the rules in place to help VVolt have a successful retirement.
We must be vigilant to help others respect the dog, and that is part of why I wrote VVolt into The Tox Files. Well, it could also be that I am absolutely smitten with this four-legged hero, whose passive aggressive demands for love always turn me to putty in his paws.
Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. She and her Army veteran husband have a full life with four children and two dogs. Ronie loves people and helping other writers through speaking, workshops, and/or mentoring.