Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dragon, the Marine Veteran war dog

I received a fun request a few weeks ago. The following story is about Dragon, a dog who was adopted by Marines during the Iraq war, came back to the US with the troops. Today he lives a peaceful retirement as a happy house pet in Pensacola Florida. I was proud to donate this painting in his honor for his owners. 

Mischievous recruit dogging Marines on flight line
Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards
Reprinted from this story:

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Dragon isn't the most disciplined member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268. He's been known to steal food. He runs around Camp Pendleton's flight line like he owns the place. And he can't maintain his bearing, always bowing his head and folding his ears back. Get him really excited and he'll even leave a puddle on the floor.

But his Marines love him. It's hard not to. The lovable mutt is just that -- a stray the squadron's Marines came to call their own during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Dragon has migrated from the streets of Kuwait to the squadron's hangars and he's never looked more at home.

His breed- "Persian camel shepherd," quipped Capt. Matt G. Robinson, his unofficial caretaker, now the quality assurance officer for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (Training) 164. Ten-month-old Dragon took the name from the squadron that adopted him in Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait, more than nine months ago.

"We found him hanging around the British tents," Cpl. Shaun Kelly, a crew chief for HMM-268, said while playfully scratching Dragon's head.

The squadron dubbed the adoptee Dragon after their mascot, a giant red dragon.

"It was two weeks before everyone entered Iraq," Robinson explained. "He was a malnourished tiny thing and he had been beaten and abused. He had a huge gash on top of his head."

Dragon wandered around the tents, begging and stealing scraps. It's a habit he's had a tough time breaking. Robinson is still tugging Dragon by the leash away from some of the Marines' lunches.

The Marines immediately took a liking to the pup and began to nurse him back to health.

"We fed him parts of (Meals Ready-to-Eat) at first; his big thing was peanut butter," said Robinson, who was HMM-268's officer-in-charge of the flight line during OIF. "After the first couple of meals, he slept for five days straight.

"We were worried about him," he said. "We didn't think he would make it."

Dragon, retired and enjoying life
Dragon's new family joked around about how he first behaved under their care. "For the first month he would bury half his food in the sand," Kelly said. "Then after we fed him enough, he forgot about that and just ate every bit."

Dragon soon became accustomed to the flight line. The constant whine of the engines and chopping of the rotor blades soothed him to sleep.

"At first he was scared of the (CH-46s)," said Staff Sgt. Marcus A. Gomillion, maintenance control chief.

He said the dog learned to live with the helicopter noise without fear of the noise.

The dog was a natural Wing Marine, a fact made apparent after his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.

"It was funny, because after my wife (Bethany) picked him up at LAX and took him out of the kennel, he ran right to the flight line where the planes were," Robinson said. "She had to chase him down."

Dragon was all fun and games, but the lengthy process to bring him into the Unites States wasn't. He had to be on a civilian airliner at a cost of more than $2,100.

"We're still paying for the cost to ship him from Iraq," Robinson said. "My wife had to hunt down the only veterinarian in Kuwait City, and (she) really went out of her way to help us out."

The Robinsons weren't the only ones to pitch in for Dragon's journey home. More than $1,100 came pouring in from Marines and their families to keep the pup with the squadron.

Dragon was quarantined after he got all his required shots. Then all his paperwork was checked and double- checked at U.S. Customs in Los Angeles.

"After we had been through so much with him, I knew there was no way we'd leave this guy behind," Robinson said.

After all, to his Marines, he's part of their family ?much to the chagrin of some in the squadron. Mail even seemed more regular for Dragon than for the Marines.

"That dog would get packages before I would," Gomillion said. "Everybody loved him."

Dragon gave as much as he got, too.

"He was a definite help through hard times, because we lost some Marines out there," Robinson said. "He was something the Marines didn't have out there. He was something they grew attached to and took care of."

Dragon's not going anywhere soon either. Marines at HMM-268 made him part of their family. He even has his own Service Record Book.

"When he sees the uniforms he starts going crazy," Robinson said. "The flight suits or the cammies ... he loves being around Marines."

Just because the squadron treats him like part of the Marine family doesn't mean he's completely given up his wily ways. The little pup is mischievous, even around Robinson at home.

"One time I was cooking hamburgers and I had five out in a glass bowl on our table," he said. "I turned around and when I looked back there were only two left. The bowl hadn't moved at all."

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feed me

What do you mean, it's not lunch time?
Sherman the vizsla is very vocal and has lots of personality. I couldn't resist sharing this photo of him trying to manipulate me into feeding him lunch at 10 am one morning! Pleeeeez! accompanied by lots of whining, didn't do the trick.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October is fire season in Southern California

None of us who lived through the fires will ever forget. The first fire in over 40 years to roar through Poway, and all of San Diego County, was in late October, 2003. I was just getting ready to move into my new house, and instead I evacuated my friends’ animals to it. My living room was filled with crates and birdcages, my corral with horses. And then the fire kept coming, and we had to move them all again.

The birds stayed in my car up in Rancho Bernardo for four days, where the air was safer for them to breathe. The horses ended up in a kind stranger’s back yard in north Poway. Many more horses ended up at the Del Mar Racetrack until their owners could claim them. If you’ve ever lived through a natural disaster–tornado, hurricane, fire, earthquake– you know how traumatic it can be.

The landscape and trails were decimated. Everything was covered in a thick coating of ashes for weeks. We rode out and discovered animals burned to a crisp, still in the pose they were in when the fire caught up with them…running. It is still hard to look at the photos.

Then it 2007 it happened again, this time coming in from the north and east. Thousands of homes burned. This time Rancho Bernardo and northern Poway got the worst of it. Several of my clients and friends lost their homes. Some of them lost their animals too.

The cross says "For the animals, 2003 Cedar Fire"
We all get a little leery of October now. We plan to stay in town. We clear the brush. We update our emergency kits and put air in the tires. Make sure the horses remember how to load in the trailer.

I occasionally walk a Kerry Blue Terrier near her home at the far east end of Garden Rd, an area that was burned in the 2003 fire. One day I ventured out of the neighborhood and onto the surrounding trails. I found a homemade memorial (above) to the animals that died in the 2003 fire. It is still there, and I find it very touching. I visit often while Wrigley and I walk. I want to remember.

One day I came out the front door with Wrigley, and there was a beautiful rainbow just across the street. I’m not especially religious, but I remember my bible studies. The rainbow was a sign of hope that God showed the survivors after it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. I like that.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thundershirt for dogs

Desi is afraid of fireworks and thunder
At the recommendation of other dog daycare owners, I ordered the Thundershirt. In fact I ordered one in every size, since I have canine clients of every size. The folks at Thundershirt claim this product will relieve anxiety caused by storms, loud noises and other scary things. Several of my clients are also having trouble at home with their dogs, and I thought the shirts might help them. The gentle constant pressure around a dog’s body has a calming effect. For theory and examples, visit their website.

I told one of my friends about this miracle product and she laughed. “So your clients will show up at your house and all the dogs will all be running around in straight jackets!”

Oliver models his Thundershirt. Look! He's sitting still!
The experiment: Oliver
One little rascal who stays with me, Oliver, is in constant motion. I wrapped him up in his shirt, and the difference was immediate. Instead of zooming around, totally agitated, he settled down at my feet. As time went on, he was still active and busy, but the edge was off. Oliver was a much nicer dog to have around.

I asked his owner Lianne, if he was always hyper at home and she said no, but she’d like to try the shirt. So I sent it home with her. I have a feeling he’s more active than Lianne let on! She explained that he gets pretty wound up when people come over. The Thundershirt definitely has an effect on his behavior, and now she wants to get a second one for him.

Wally, a Dachshund/Lab mix, had a nasty habit of charging anyone who came into the house, and even bit a few people. The Thundershirt instantly calmed him, and he’s much easier to live with. I got a note from Wally’s owner, Claire:
Thanks so much for the Thunder jacket for Wally! He loves it. It’s amazing how it calms him down. Now he’ll wear it and watch movies in bed with me. Before, the sound made him upset and he’d run outside.
My helper Judy was skeptical. After all, it’s only a shirt. So one day when she was here, I put one on Sadie, an Aussie who constantly barks. She was instantly silent. Neither one of us could believe it.

It doesn’t work on every dog in every situation – nothing does. But I’ve had several successes and highly recommend one if you have an anxious dog.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I took a week off. This is a major event, since I felt like all I’ve done is work, seven days a week, for the past several years. My trip to Portland with my high school girlfriends, Janis and Laurie, was a real treat, and we made the most of it. I came home invigorated and ready to conquer the world, which is exactly what vacations are supposed to accomplish.

The Northwest is where I am happiest. Give me some big green trees and cool weather and I know I am home. In Eugene, we hiked, ate wonderful food, tromped around the University of Oregon campus, visited art galleries, walked for miles (oh my aching feet), and spent hours talking, just like old times.

In Portland, we visited the wonderful Powell’s Books, which houses several floors of new and used volumes, right in the heart of downtown. I was THRILLED to find my new book, Animal Planet, Dogs 101: Labrador Retriever for sale! The book is finally out, and I was hopping around like a little kid at Christmas when I found it on the shelves. The salesperson had me sign it, and they stuck a sticker on the front that says “autographed,” like I’m a celebrity or something.

Our visit to Portland included lunch with my cousin and her daughter, and a visit to my aunt in her retirement home. Some antiquing, a visit to the test Rose Gardens and a stroll around Reed College finished off our trip. I came home tired and happy.

My excellent week continued when I discovered the book in Petsmart and Barnes and Noble. For the first time, I felt like a real author.

Home again
I returned home to some sad news. My sheltie Lily, age 14, had taken a turn for the worse, and she died the afternoon I got home. She had never recovered from her spell with vestibular syndrome, and her old body finally just gave out.

Lily came to me with Bonnie– both girls were rescued from a Texas puppy mill and brought to California. They had both weaned litters right before I adopted them. I’ve had them for seven years. Bonnie is now deaf and is also in fragile condition, so I treasure these last months with her.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.