Retired working dog finds permanent home with former handler

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
The old "Airman" nearly lost his life on his last deployment to Iraq, but his partner rescued and brought him home safely, vowing to be there for the rest of his days.

Now Ajax, a military working dog assigned to the 820th Security Forces Group, has been retired from active duty and adopted by Staff Sgt. Morgan Maul, the same handler who brought him home from a dangerous tour in Iraq.

To say the two share a special bond is an understatement. Neither one would be alive today without the other, said Sergeant Maul.

While deployed on a patrol with the Army in 2006, Ajax was overcome with heat stroke and would have perished in Iraq if it weren't for the efforts of his handler. Soon after returning to search duty, Ajax found numerous explosive devices that could have killed Sergeant Maul and his team.

Ajax's brush with heat stroke made him much more susceptible to heat injuries, said his handler. More recently, a hip problem prevented him from accomplishing his duties.

"The veterinarians aren't exactly sure what is wrong with his hips," said Sergeant Maul. "But if he slips and strikes his hips, he yelps in pain. Continuing to work him just was not the right thing to do. Ajax is nine years old and that's getting up there for a working dog."

Given the state of his health, the base veterinarian declared Ajax unfit for further deployments and he was retired.

The Air Force MWD program has three choices available for dogs it retires from active duty, said Tech. Sgt. Jason Somers, 820th SFG MWD kennel master.

"It's the Department of Defense's goal to adopt all working dogs out at an age where they can enjoy their retirement on a couch, instead of a kennel, after serving their country," said Sergeant Somers.

The former handlers of each dog are the primary candidate for adoption, he said. They know the dog better and appreciate the sacrifices the animal has given.

"Sometimes, if there is nobody available to adopt the dog, the canine will be sent back to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to be used as a training tool," said Sergeant Somers. "This allows the animal to do what it enjoys, while training new students with an experienced animal."

However, Ajax was unsuitable for this duty due to his history of heat injury, said Sergeant Maul. Sending a vulnerable dog to work in south Texas could have ended badly.

Dogs that become too sick to work and are in distress are humanely put to sleep, said Sergeant Somers.

This wasn't to be the case with Ajax, explained his former handler.

"Ajax has got a number of years left in him as an adopted pet," said Sergeant Maul. "But the old boy just can't live them as a working dog.

"As soon as I returned from Iraq, I knew it was probably Ajax's last trip," continued the handler. "I made it clear to my supervision that when he came up for adoption I would be honored to take him."

On June 20, the MWD kennel called and asked Sergeant Maul if he was ready to adopt Ajax. When he asked how long it would take to finish the paperwork in order to bring the dog home, the response surprised him.

"They asked me, 'How about today?'" he said. "I was totally caught by surprise, but I was ready."

Since coming home, Ajax has slipped right into the life of a house dog, but he's still a special pet, said Sergeant Maul.

"If I am home, he spends his days sleeping on the futon in the game room, just chilling out," said Sergeant Maul. "But if I'm out of the house, Ajax is very protective of my fiancé. He sleeps on the bed with her and won't leave her side.

"He also has a tendency to get into cupboards and trash can if he gets bored," he added. "I can't really fault him-he spent his life nosing around, searching for trouble."

However, one problem Sergeant Maul didn't anticipate in making a formerly kenneled dog into a home pet was the dog's 'drinking problem.'

"My fiancé only has one issue with Ajax," he said. "He chomps around in his water bowl when he drinks. Then when he walks off, he leaves puddles of drool everywhere. She thinks it's disgusting.

"If that's the worst problem I have to deal with, he's going to be just fine," he added. "I'm really looking forward to hanging out with the old boy for quite a while."