Colonel Janet Deltuva was head of the 8th Medical Group at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, when her life changed forever. At a change-of-command ceremony, the lifelong animal lover saw many military working dogs and asked if she could pet one.
“The dogs are working, you can’t pet them!” was the response.
But one handler named Shawn Alexander gestured to his own dog Emzy and said: “You can pet her – she’s retiring.” Janet reached down to stroke the dog, and fell in love.
She learned from Shawn that Emzy had been trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After receiving her certification, Emzy was assigned to a base in Korea. The then seven-year-old patrol dog served the military by working the search pit, searching commercial vehicles that were entering the base for explosives.
To Janet, the German shepherd she was petting didn’t seem aggressive, as these specially-trained dogs often seemed to be in every other description she had heard. Instead, Emzy was showing friendliness by leaning towards Janet’s legs.
Soon after, Janet found out Emzy was slated for retirement due to a severe cardiac problem. She volunteered to adopt the dog without a second thought, even though adopting a military working dog is a rather complicated process. The handlers have first dibs on these dogs when they retire, usually between the ages of 11 and 13 – because of Emzy’s health issues, she was retired at age eight. In addition, if a dog is put up for adoption, he first needs to pass what is called a “bite test” to determine whether he is suitable for civilian life, or might cause harm to his new family. Only then is the paperwork completed and the dog placed in his new household environment.
Emzy proved in her “bite test” that she would fit into a civilian life, but Janet found she was still a little aggressive when they returned home together to Arizona, since a military patrol dog is trained to intimidate. Janet and her husband Rick’s other animals weren’t too happy either. Her 17-year-old cat welcomed Emzy with “a big slap” when they first met, although the dog didn’t respond, even though she had never seen a cat before. Janet also had six ferrets, and Emzy was both curious and confused about them.
Janet spent countless hours training Emzy to be less aggressive, especially when it came to food. Happily, this intelligent dog didn’t take long to adapt to her new family, and even became friends with the cat and ferrets. When the Deltuvas’ older cat passed, she introduced Emzy to two new kittens. The three now enjoy each other’s company and often share a bed so they can sleep together. Janet no longer worries about Emzy being aggressive.
Emzy’s favorite activity is to go golfing with her “daddy”. On sunny days, she lies in the golf cart while Rick drives her around the course to see her “uncles”. Rick was surprised when one golfer asked him if Emzy was blind.
“I asked him why he thought that, and he said, ‘She isn’t chasing the squirrels!’” explains Rick. “I told him she is just extremely well behaved. In fact, she is perfect! She never barks. She is so loyal to us. She will only go to people whom we know extremely well.”
The couple is glad Janet made the decision to adopt Emzy, even though they were warned by a veterinarian that she wouldn’t live for more than a year. To Janet and Rick, Emzy is not just a “pet”, but also a child. They committed themselves to providing good care for her, despite the expensive medical bills arising from her health issues. And that commitment has paid off, since Emzy is still going strong three years after Janet adopted her.
“She’s courageous,” adds Janet. “She has had two surgeries to remove cancerous skin lesions, with only local anesthesia. Her heart condition is too severe for a general anesthetic. She watched the vet perform the surgeries, and never whimpered, fussed or battled the staff.” And just as Janet had to teach Emzy to be less aggressive, the dog also taught her an important lesson too. “Emzy had to learn to relax and undo her military training. I also had to learn to relax and not approach everything like a colonel.”
Janet and Emzy served their country well, and are fully enjoying their retirement with Rick and the couple’s other companion animals. They recently moved to a new home in San Antonio, Texas, where Emzy continues to bring joy to her family and go golfing with “daddy”. Says her former handler, Shawn: “I am confident she is in an amazing home!”
During the Vietnam War, thousands of military working dogs were left behind after battle, and were either euthanized or abandoned when they became too old or disabled to work. Thanks to Robby’s Law, which was passed in 2000, military dogs are allowed to be brought back to the United States. Some are adopted by their handlers, while some are sent back to Lackland AFB and then put up for adoption to civilians.