Veterinary clinic collects holiday donations for military dogs

'Joy to the Woof' successful beyond expectations

December 19, 2012 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photo courtesy of Pewee Valley Veterinary Center
"Joy to the Woof" was the brainchild of veterinary technician Carolyne Tilford (left) and wholeheartedly adopted by her boss, Dr. Manta Loster. The charity drive collected donations of toys, treats and money for gear to improve the lives of military dogs in Afghanistan.
The box in the clinic lobby with donations bound for Afghanistan is overflowing. So are four donation boxes set up in nearby towns by the same clinic.

Donations consist of toys and treats, brushes, collapsible nylon bowls and water bottles — for dogs.

Holiday gift drives for military personnel are a staple of the season but this one is different, focusing on four-footed fighters. In Afghanistan, bomb-sniffing military dogs protect lives, sometimes at the expense of their own.

To recognize the dogs’ contributions and bring them a bit of holiday cheer, the staff at Pewee Valley Veterinary Center in Pewee Valley, Ky., dreamed up a charitable drive they dubbed "Joy to the Woof."  

"The idea was brought to me by staff member Carolyne Tilford," said Dr. Manta Loster, owner of the clinic. "No one in her family is in the military but for her, it's an issue that deserves respect."

Loster agreed.

In their quest to support the canine combatants, clinic staff learned about a nonprofit organization called Operation Kennel Mom, or OKM, started by two active military members, Alexandra Kennedy and Ashley Moore. OKM collects donations and care packages for military working dogs (MWD) in Afghanistan.

The VIN News Service was unable to reach Kennedy or Moore, but the OKM website explains: “Supplying these MWD teams with healthy dog treats, foods, and beneficial toys helps prevent avoidable injuries and diseases caused by the combat environment and lowered health standards that would otherwise take them out of the fight. Operation Kennel Mom’s effort to keep more K9s in operational status continues to provide security for ground troops and a greater chance of early threat detection.”

Among the items on OKM’s wish list are goggles to protect eyes from sandstorms, Kong rubber toys, 26-foot retractable leashes, Greenies Pill Pockets, brushes, waterless shampoos and tick tweezers.

Through OKM, donors also may sponsor a dog by giving money to purchase Kevlar-soled booties that protect paw pads from heat and injuries and a cooling vest to ward off heat exhaustion in a climate where the temperature can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Joy to the Woof" garnered enough monetary donations at Loster's clinic to outfit 10 dogs with Kevlar booties, cooling vests, goggles and leashes, plus provide various medical supplies.

Recognizing military dogs' service

Now that the "Joy to the Woof" project is wrapping up, Dr. Manta Loster is pursuing a new goal: creating a nonprofit organization to support military dogs.

Exactly what that support would entail is up in the air. One possibility is to help dogs that no longer are working come home, transportation for which the military does not cover.

The U.S. Department of Defense classifies military dogs as equipment. Legislation pending before Congress would reclassify them as "canine members of the armed forces."

The bill — S. 2134, Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act — would facilitate the adoption of retired military dogs and provide veterinary care for the rest of their lives. The legislation also calls on the Secretary of Defense to create an award to recognize military working dogs that are killed in action or that "perform an exceptionally meritorious or courageous act in service to the United States."

Phyllis DeGioia

Because the clinic made the purchase in volume for a good cause, the bootie manufacturer gave a half-price discount, Loster said, noting that booties normally run $150 for a set of four. Cooling vests, too, cost approximately $150 apiece.

The spirit of generosity appeared to be contagious; Loster reported that several companies donated goods, or reduced their prices significantly.  

Loster had not expected such a large response. He said donations came from people in several states.   

Breeds typically used as military working dogs include Dutch shepherds, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and springer spaniels for tracking, Loster said. One dog the clinic is sponsoring is a pit bull mix.  

Loster said individual dogs typically are deployed with groups of 40 service people to detect homemade bombs known as improvised explosive devices. It's hard work.

"These dogs get PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) and anxiety," he said. "That's why they want toys so badly. It helps a lot to give them downtime, it helps with PTSD and anxiety. We're overflowing with Kong toys! ... In the forces, they've determined that food is not the main motivator. They use positive reinforcement, (and) toys are better reinforcement than food. Food apparently loses its luster after a while."  

Loster has not served in the military but said he has "tremendous" respect for the people and dogs who do. As a native of Holland, which was liberated by Allied troops in 1945 from Nazi German occupation, Loster said his appreciation of those in military service runs deep.   

"To me it's truly about respect for them,” Loster said. “I'm a veterinarian. When you have a dog saving 40 people because of its capability of sniffing out a bomb, I think I need to support that."

Editor's note: This story has been changed from the original to reflect that the donations have not yet been shipped.

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