K9 retires to enjoy ‘golden years’

  • Published
  • By Katherine Spessa
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications
During a retirement ceremony held here Feb. 2, 2024, members of the 10th Security Forces Squadron bid farewell to Military Working Dog Lex, a member of their team for the last seven years, as he begins his new life as “just a dog.”

‘A little spunky’
“He was a really great dog from the get-go, just a little spunky,” joked Tech. Sgt. Joshua Lawson, 10th SFS kennel master and Lex’s handler for two of his years at the Academy.

Lex was given a bath to be presentable before his time in the spotlight. Clearly a well-loved member of the team, handlers gathered around to watch and laugh at the spectacle – among his many quirks, Lex is infamous for thrashing about when picked up. Lawson still sports a broken nose from repeated headbutts in similar situations from his partner.

On the occasion of Lex’s retirement, several of his previous handlers sent in stories of his exploits during his many years in the program. Lt. Col. Nikki Gessner, 10th SFS commander, shared one of his patrol stories, eliciting gales of laughter from the audience.

“Military Working Dog Lex showed his change of behavior before they even walked up to the vehicle. This is not common, and that behavior was an indication,” said Gessner. “When given the command to search, Lex sprinted straight to the back of the truck and gave an immediate and confident final response. His handler ran to him at the back of the truck to lift the gate and get eyes on the drug den.

“Instead, he found 300 stacked pizzas.”

A working dog, through and through
Among many humorous tales of the spunky pup, all his handlers agreed that Lex was an outstanding working dog specializing in patrol and narcotics detection.

“Only about 50 percent of dogs in the military working dog program make it through, and it can take up to 18 months,” said Gessner. “Lex completed his training in six months – a distinguished graduate, you might say.”

Lawson, who has worked with three dogs, including a German Shorthaired Pointer and a Belgian Malinois, said Lex was the perfect all-around working dog.

“The GSP was good at detection, the Malinois at patrol, but Lex was great at both,” Lawson said. “He loves to go and bite the bad guys, but he’s also really great at finding drugs. I’ve put marijuana in a ten-foot-high basketball hoop and watched him do backflips trying to get it.”

On to his new home
Lex’s work has made placing him with a family difficult. While the first choice is always to have a dog placed with a previous handler or a family who is willing to adopt retired dogs, in some cases, it isn’t safe.

“He’s always been a wonderful dog, but he’s always been one to go after the bad guys,” said Lawson. “With a six-year-old daughter at home, it doesn’t really mesh well.”

A solution for Lex came in the form of the Ddamien Project, a not-for-profit charity that offers a home for dogs like Lex.

As soon as Lex was eligible for retirement, Lawson and the veterinary team here contacted Krystal Tronboll, the founder of the Ddamien Project and former U.S. Navy military working dog handler. She and her husband adopt retired military working dogs that are unable to go to a home and welcome them to their ranch in Texas to live out their “golden years.”

“When we get to bring home a dog in Lex’s position, I tell people its an honor to be able to be part of this dog’s next chapter, to watch them go from being a little bit wound up and a little bit wild and letting them just decompress and just run around like a dog,” said Tronboll.

She and Lawson both agree that a passion for dogs is necessary for being a dog handler. Tronboll said she keeps in touch with handlers’ whose dogs she adopts, sending them pictures and updates of their new life.

“Lex is one of the goodest boys,” said Lawson. “He will always hold a special place.”