This is the next chapter in the compelling story of Army Specialist Marc Whittaker, his military working dog (MWD) Anax (now retired) and his new MWD, Dark. I suggest you read the first few pieces to get caught up if you haven’t already.
Readers Digest version: Anax is injured in Afghanistan protecting Marc. Anax loses his leg as a result. Anax is now located in Texas with Marc’s family. Marc is in Germany trying to get back “on the leash” and channel his passion for dogs through MWD Dark. But MWD Dark is no MWD Anax.
Marc Whittaker slammed his hand down of the buzzing alarm clock and turned over. He wasn’t in the mood today. He pulled the sheets over his shoulders tightly. He lay in bed not wanting to move. But that wasn’t an option.
He was a Soldier, an Army dog handler, and there were dogs at the kennels that needed his attention. Two dogs to be exact: his current dog—patrol narcotic dog Dark and his former dog, patrol explosive detector dog (retired)Anax.
The frigging military system was taking forever to approve Anax’s retirement. There were so many bureaucratic hoops to leap through. Anax had three legs for God’s sake. You would think it would be easier for Anax to retire and then for Marc to adopt the dog that lost his leg protecting him.
Be patient, Marc, he told himself. It will happen. Everything happens for a reason. If the process was quicker Anax would already be home in Texas. Then you wouldn’t get to see him every day, he told himself.
It was time to get back on the horse. It was time to regain the swagger he lost during the fire fight in Afghanistan, the same fire fight that injured his pal Anax.
He had certification coming up with Dark. They had failed certification last time. Marc wasn’t used to failing anything, so it was a bitter pill to swallow. It was embarrassing that he couldn’t work law enforcement or missions with Dark. It sucked that other teams in the kennel had to pick up his slack.
He was determined to get Dark righted and put on the correct path. He would fix this puppy, they would certify, and things could resume some semblance of normalcy until he got ready for his Permanent Change of Station. The newest and greatest news was that Marc had been able to land a slot at Fort Hood, Texas. In October he would leave Germany and be about three hours from his home town.
He was ready for a change. No, he needed a change—a fresh start, a new kennel, and a new dog were exactly what he needed.
After his last certification his supervisors ordered him to spend less time with Anax. But that was never going to happen. Marc would never give up spending time with his little son Anax. So he snuck extra time in with Anax whenever he could. But he spent the majority of time training Dark.
The other handlers of the kennel stood behind Marc. As a kennel they worked hard on fixing Dark’s issues. Marc was confident he could fix Dark because his fellow Soldiers had his back. Another team from his kennel, SSG Lee and MWD Fibi, were preparing to deploy, so SSG Lee and Marc spent a lot of time training together.
Dark’s first problem was that he was fringing. Fringing is what it’s called when a working dog gives a final response like sitting as soon as he is in the odor cone of the explosive. This means the dog hasn’t identified the exact location of the odor but is close. In the dog community this is referred to as “not working the odor to source.”
Dark’s second problem was his false sitting. Dark just sat even when there was no odor in the area. Marc knew that his dog was just frustrated and wanted his toy. He knew that Dark was trying. He also knew that Dark’s frustration could be running down the leash from Marc.
He refused to allow that to happen again. He would be patient with his new puppy. He just had to come to terms with the fact that Dark wasn’t Anax. Of course it would be nice if Dark had a high drive like Anax. But he didn’t, so Marc was stuck with this low drive puppy.
Marc was excited as he drove to his second certification attempt in Grafenwoehr, Germany. He was confident in them as a team. He knew he wasn’t devoted or attached to Dark like he was with Anax. Sure, this could hinder their FULL potential as a team. But he was confident they would pass certification.
He was elated to see the same certifying official, Master Sergeant Hillis, from his last certification in Baumholder. Marc wanted to show Hillis that he had listened, fixed his dog’s deficiencies, and was on track.
His heart beat fast and he nodded with anticipation as HIllis provided instructions.
“Whittaker, you and Dark are up first,” Hillis said.
Marc nodded and knelt down next to Dark.
“You can do this pal. I believe in you,” Marc whispered as he stoked Dark’s head.
“Whittaker, let’s go,” Hillis said.
Marc stood back up, looked down the road he was preparing to search, and nodded. He leaned over, released Dark from his leash, and commanded, “Seek.”
Dark surged forward. His tail wagged slowly, his nose was about eight inches from the ground, and he searched the road in a tight pattern.
Marc smiled. He knew this was it. He was going to do this!
How does Marc fare at his second attempt at certification?
Has Marc’s frustration affected Dark’s performance?
Can he ever build a bond with Dark like he had with Anax?
Stay tuned for the next chapter in this series!
Click here to subscribe and receive my weekly blog posts directly to your email. You don’t want to miss a thing!