Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Maria Goodavage and Jake!

Maria Goodavage
"Military working dogs are amazing in every aspect, and even more so when you realize that they risk their lives and save yours, all so they can have a ball." Air Force Staff Sergeant, Christine Campos, Dog Handler. 

Thus opens the New York Times best selling, Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes, by Maria Goodavage. I first heard about Maria's book on my favorite television show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Jon always had great interviews with authors about their books, but his interview with Maria was particularly fascinating. You can watch the interview here. As soon as the interview was over, I said to my husband, "We have to read that book!" And we did.

Sgt. Campos & partner
In Soldier Dogs, Maria explores the training of and relationship between these highly trained and specialized dogs and their handlers. Goodavage (pronounced Good-AH-Vig), a former USA Today reporter and news editor at Say Media's www.dogster.com, interviewed military working dog (MWD) handlers, trainers, dog behaviorists, scientists, officials in the Department of Defense, and a myriad of folks in the military who's lives are touched (and often saved) by these dogs. MWD have played a crucial role in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because of their ability to sniff out improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In 2010, bomb sniffing dogs are credited with finding more than 12,500 pounds of explosives in Afghanistan alone. One can only imagine how many lives and limbs were saved! As one MWD handler so aptly said, "My life is in my dog's nose."

Team work saving lives
Maria not only interviewed tons of different people for the book, she had unprecedented access to the training camp the dogs and then the dog and handler teams go to at the Yuma Proving Grounds. The course is grueling for both dog and soldier. But in the end, if they make the cut, they will be a team that will save countless lives.

Throughout the book, Maria talks about her sweet yellow lab, Jake. She wonders if Jake has what it would take to be a Military Working Dog. As we all know, dogs love to have a job to do and Jake is no exception. Jake is Every Dog. Jake is Maria's muse and her sunshine. Let's meet this amazing duo in today's Fido and Friend in Five:

1. How did you and Jake find each other?
Maria & Jake
After our old dog Joe died in 2002, I couldn't bear the thought of getting another dog  for keeps for a while. But we all missed having a dog around, so about a month after Joe died we started looking to foster a dog. We located a small rescue that said they had a sweet 6-month-old yellow Lab type of dog who needed temporary digs 'til an adoption fair. 

The minute he walked in the door, I was done for. My eyes misted up, and I knew he was a keeper. There was something about him, his happy disposition, his looking like he was saying "Oh goody, I'm HOME!" that got me right in the soul. We "fostered" him for a couple of weeks then told them that they didn't have to bother taking him to the adoption fair. Yes, I am a failed foster.

 Jake is now 10, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

2. What makes Jake's tail wag? 
photos by Hale Davis
 Everything. Jake loves life. He is the poster child for living in the moment, happily enjoying everything around him.  Food makes him wag. I make him wag. Strangers make him wag. Flying birds make him wag. The words "car," "chicken," "cheese," "treat," and "food" make him wag. The word "bath" makes him run away.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  
Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck, got me started on my lifelong love of good books and traveling with a dog at my side. I started my "Dog Lover's Companion" dog guidebook series in 1992 based in part on my longtime enjoyment of Steinbeck's book. He crossed the United States in his camper truck with his blue poodle, and I drove up and down and all around California in my rusty little pickup truck and my dog Joe. 

4. If Jake could change just one thing about you, what would it be?

He would greatly like me to make room for him on the bed. The poor fellow has to make do with his four dog beds, the couch, and very own Ikea arm chair, complete with ottoman.

5. In five words, tell us what Jake means to you:
Jake is sunshine and happiness.

I hope readers of this little blog of mine know I rarely use it as a platform or soapbox, except to celebrate the unique bond between dogs and their people. But I got a bit of a fire lit under my you-know-what when I read Maria's book. Did you know that the military classifies these four-footed heroes as equipment? It's true! Maria has been working hard with several other organizations to get this gross error rectified. Please visit her website to find out more about this.Click on the Resources tab. It's truly a disgrace. Maria just recently informed me that a bill (the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act) that was being introduced into congress to reclassify the dogs has now been enfolded into a larger military bill which just passed in Congress. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that it does likewise in the Senate! Better yet, contact your senator and tell them these invaluable members of the military need to be recognized for what they are: Soldier Dogs.