Part IV Marc and Anax: The Struggle to Move On
Army Specialist Marc Whittaker walks into the kennel every day with his heart beating quickly and his mind spinning. He looks to his left and then to his right and then he hesitates.
To the right is retired Military Working Dog Anax, who whimpers for him. Anax is his son who now has three legs because he took a bullet that was meant for Marc.
To his left, Marc’s new dog, Military Working Dog Dark, whimpers for him.
What he’d like to do is take both dogs outside so he could play and frolic with his two pals without a purpose. Marc wants to take them home and never bring them back to the kennels. But he knows that can’t happen. Dark is a highly trained Patrol Narcotics Detection Dog (PNDD) in the United States Army.
Marc is a highly trained military working dog handler. He is skilled and proficient in the task of employing bomb and narcotic dogs while the United States is at war. His son Anax may be retired, but Marc’s skills as a dog handler are needed.
Marc is conflicted between the past and the future, between two dogs—both whimpering, begging for affection and attention from one man.
He knows he shouldn’t, but he can’t help himself. Marc turns left to see his Shepalicious son Anax. His sergeants have told him to stop spending so much time with Anax. They want Marc bonding with Dark because they want Marc and Dark to complete Military Working Dog Certification so they can be employed as a dog team. They also want Marc to re-kindle his love of training dogs. They want to see the same fiery and energetic soldier they sent to Afghanistan. But Marc is a soldier who came back from Afghanistan a shell of his once proud self.
Anax barks and leaps up on the door with his two front paws. He loses his balance and falls to the ground. His one back leg is unable to support him. He still doesn’t understand what happened to him. He still wants to go out and train with Marc. He wants to find explosives, run through the obstacle course and maybe bite some protective sleeves.
He grunts and leaps back up on his three legs, his tongue is hanging low and he bounces with excitement when Marc opens the door. Marc embraces him and holds him tight. He can’t wait until the paperwork is completed and he can ship Anax back to his home in Texas. Anax will forever be in the Whittaker family. But, like with anything in the military, military working dog retirement and adoption take time. Marc fights back the tears. After a few minutes of comfort and affection, Marc feels his stomach stomach begin to churn. He knows it’s time
Dark is still a puppy, so he has ample energy. He jumps up on the kennel door and does a half spin into his house and then back out again. Dark has this high pitched puppy yelp-howling that makes Marc’s ears ring.
Marc wishes he was as excited to see Dark as Dark is to see him. He sighs and opens the door to the kennel. Dark jumps up on him.
“No. Sit,” commands Marc.
He looks down at the sitting dog that is staring at him with his big sad dark eyes. Anax never jumped on him like that.
Marc knows he needs to get serious about bonding and training Military Working Dog Dark so he takes Dark outside into the cold German morning. The cold breeze further deflates Marc’s already depleted enthusiasm. He unleashes Dark who darts around the training yard, running the fence line and stretching his stiff legs. He rolls on the ground, scratching his back, and then leaps up and down in front of Marc with his tail wagging. He is amped up and ready to show his new friend his stuff. He runs in circles around Marc, barking as he goes.
Marc sighs at the barely two-year-old puppy’s’ energy as the cold wind sweeps across his neck trying to sneak down into his green fleece jacket. He shivers and shakes his head.
He’s been through this before with Anax. Anax is two years Dark’s senior and doesn’t act like a puppy. A deployment to Afghanistan and a tragic injury will mature anyone, man or dog. Now Marc has to start all over again.
Marc knows certification is coming in less than a month. He’s been Dark’s handler for three months and feels the pressure from his peers and supervisors to start contributing. The constant flow of missions and deployments needs to be spread around. Every soldier and dog must do his part, but no certification means no mission. Marc also knows that no mission means an increase in kennel maintenance. Marc will be on “poop” patrol instead of out doing what he loves.
He wipes his runny nose, takes a deep breath and resigns himself to his fate.
“Anax. I mean Dark, come.”
The German shepherd launches himself at Marc and lands his two front paws on Marc’s chest. Marc strokes the dog’s head and stares into Dark’s almond shaped eyes. He knows that Dark wants nothing more than to please him. What Dark doesn’t understand is that there is only one thing that would please his new handler. Anax.
What will happen to Anax?
Will Marc and Dark pass certification?
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