When you talk to Kristen
Maurer, founder of Mission K9 Rescue, she proudly explains everything they do: rescue, reunite, re-home, repair and rehabilitate.
At the Veteran K9 Rescue Ranch in Magnolia, retired heroes of the furry kind now spend their free time with a devoted and well-trained staff. Several dogs are retired there, including contract dogs that have recently returned home from Kuwait, available soon for adoption. The Houston based company works with not only retired contract and military dogs, but serves all working dogs “that have served mankind in some capacity.”
Maurer said the breeds vary from Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds to a few labs.
The work done at Mission K9 Rescue has garnered several awards including the 2017 ASPCA Henry Bergh Award (Bergh was founder of the ASPCA) and for their work in helping animals who save lives, the Petco Foundations’s 2017 Helping Heroes Award.
After a tour of duty, Maurer makes sure the canine veterans find Mission K9 Rescue a peaceful retirement ranch.
“These dogs have lived in a 5-by-10 or 10-by-10 kennel their entire life. At our ranch, each dog has a 30-by-30 yard,” Maurer said.
They play and socialize with them. At this point in their dog years, Maurer said, “Our deal is once you’re retired you can have as many toys as you want. We don’t want the dogs to work for a treat.”
Continuing with an individualized rehabilitation, Maurer then introduces them to other dogs, and gets them out in public.
“It gives them time to decompress, to realize that they are in a safe, fun environment,” she said.
Rescuing military dogs is rewarding for Maurer.
“It’s what we do. We bring in military dogs into our care when the military can’t find them a home. We will sometimes get a call asking if we can take in a dog and we will do that.”
Yet the process of military members reuniting with their canine comrade is a long process. Handlers (someone who works with a military dog specially trained for bomb sniffing or rescue efforts) can adopt the dog after retirement.
“Once the dog retires, and a handler requests to adopt the dog, and a handler is chosen to get the dog, then we will pay to get that dog back to the military member.”
Military members sent overseas with their K9 staff get attached to dogs fairly quickly, and Maurer has heard many deployment stories.
“These dogs are on the front lines, they’re not only saving their handler, but they are saving their entire unit,” she said. “We’ve all heard stories where a dog was trying to wake the handler in the tent and finally woke him up just in time as explosives were going off all around them. He saved his life. Any time a dog is in a ware zone, that dog is their lifeline. Not only are they saving lives, but also giving the military staff a sense of home and therapy while they are over there.”
Maurer’s adopted Belgian Malinois, Robbie, has seen his share of wartime.
“My retired mine detection dog from Afghanistan really had a rough time over there. Neurological disorders, PTSD. When Robbie arrived in the U.S., he weighted 39 pounds. Every veteran dog responds differently to life after wartime and deployment. Some dogs come back resilient, they just do fine. It really depends on the dog.”
While Robbie rests comfortably at home, Maurer observes, “All he wants now is love and affection.”
For his heroism, a children’s book was written about him: “Mission K9 Rescue” by Tierney James (available on Amazon).
Adoptions are available, said Maurer, adding it takes a special person to adopt a military K9.
“Potential owners need to understand this dog has spent his entire life giving to the country and working to protect. Adopting them is more a labor of love, giving them a life of being a normal dog. Once you’ve adopted a military K9, you realize what these dogs have been through and what they are able to give back – their life for us – no questions asked. They didn’t choose to go – they were drafted. It’s very similar to our two-legged veterans – what can we do to give back to them? That’s what we’re doing here at Mission K9 Rescue, giving back.
Sgt. Steven Heath and Ivy were one of the first set of veterans to be reunited via Mission K9 Rescue in 2014.
A Texas resident and Marine, Heath, said the opportunity to become a military training dog handler was hard to resist.
“When the Marines started incorporating dogs into the infantry, they asked for volunteers and I said ‘let’s do it,’ so I signed up,” he said.
Ivy was 3 years old when Heath started working with her in Virginia, training there for eight weeks, then meeting up with her again in Afghanistan, where he was stationed for seven months. Ivy outranks him by one pay grade – K9’s are always one rank above the handler, which makes Ivy a Staff Sergeant.
Heath continued training and working with her in Afghanistan.
“Our job was to do foot patrols, find any IED’s (improvised explosive devices) and to protect the other Marines from walking on them. Ivy did great. She had several IED finds,” Heath said.
Heath acknowledged that while everybody gets caught up with the number of IEDs found, he’s more concerned on another set of numbers.
“The most important thing we like to tell everybody is, it’s not how many IEDs you find; it’s how many you miss, because when you miss them, catastrophic things happen. And Ivy never missed one,” he said.
“As a military dog handler, it’s always our job to keep up with the dog’s training, incorporate bomb making materials, new scents, talking and communications, newest intel. The dogs we are paired with are already trained, yet the work we do is more than just giving commands. You have to recognize what are they smelling; what are they seeing.”
After Afghanistan, Heath, separated from Ivy, was stationed to California, then returned to his home state of Texas and was still waiting to be paired with his retired military buddy, even after he completed his tour and started going to school in College Station. Putting in the paperwork to adopt her took time.
“I was Ivy’s first handler. I was also the first person to put in paperwork to adopt her when she retired. I got the first phone call. But getting the funds to return her to Texas wasn’t easy.
His wife, however, did some Internet searching and found Mission K9 Rescue and they in turn came to Heath’s rescue.
He then met Maurer, who eventually brought Ivy to Texas, meeting him at the airport in Houston with leash and Ivy in hand.
It had been several years since Heath had seen his combat buddy, and was concerned at first about the reunion.
“I thought, what would the relationship be like, would she remember me? When she walked around the corner, I knelt down and took her head in my hands and started talking to her and we connected immediately,” he said.
Heath, his family, and Ivy have adjusted well to civilian life.
“We have three other dogs and they all get along well. Ivy does her own thing … she relaxes, chase balls, swims, whatever she wants to do,” he said.
Heath said he owes a lot to Maurer, her partners and staff, and the ranch.
“I am forever grateful to for them for getting Ivy to us. Any time they need anything we do everything we can to help them,” he said. “They are the real deal – they do a whole lot of work and spend a whole lot of time rescuing these dogs. They do a great job.”
For more about Mission K9 Rescue and adoptions, visit www.missionk9rescue.org.