JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO–LACKLAND, Texas —
On a weekday afternoon, potential foster parents are listening to an orientation that will help them know what to expect when a six-week Belgian Malinois puppy is placed in their care.
The Joint Base San Antonio military working dog foster puppy program places fosters with four-legged future warriors for six months before they enter the next phase of specialized training.
The breed is known for high energy, work ethic and their exceptional sense of smell.
“These are dogs for work; they are bred to be exceptional,” said Tracy Cann, 341st Training Wing MWD breeding program foster consultant. “If you think you’re going to take a dog home from the kennel life and just put him your back yard and let him loose while you go to work for eight hours, you’ll come home and your house will be destroyed.”
Once fosters are equipped with a game plan as to how they can tackle the unexpected, foster families can focus on having an experience they’ll never forget, even when it’s time to give them back.
“If my tears of giving my puppy up after having him for 5 1/2 months can save a family, it’s well worth it, and we’ll keep doing it to make sure our service members can come home safely,” said Lora Harrist, a 14-time puppy foster parent.
The MWD foster puppy program has many repeat fosters like Harrist, as well as many first-time families who have been curious about the important role they’re playing in the fostering process.
“My kids and I have talked about it,” said Kay Carter, a first-time puppy foster. “You can love this puppy and then he’s going to do bigger things, and that makes it special too; being able to help the military.”
Foster families go home with a kennel crate, food, toys and are required to bring the pups to JBSA-Lackland for regular medical check-ups. Families must also live within a 200-mile radius from the installation.
“When they leave the kennels, they’ve never been walked on a leash, they’ve never had a car ride, they’ve never spent the night alone,” said Regina Johnson, 341st Training Wing MWD breeding program foster consultant.
Foster parents are encouraged to keep their puppies inside the crates unless they are supervised and use kibble to train them during their home stay.
“A hungry puppy is looking to make a deal with you,” Cann said. “You can avert a lot of problems by using treats.”
Once the foster puppy is returned, military working dog handlers will start working with the canines to bring out the traits they’ll need on the job.
“In the military, we want a dual-purpose dog,” Johnson said. “I want a dog that after everybody tells me that the house is clear, I want you to go search it for explosives. I want a dog that’s going to tell me that a bad guy is hiding behind a false wall; that’s what I want.”
Puppies that don’t make the cut are adopted out. Foster families receive first consideration and the program receives hundreds of emails from other potential adopters and law enforcement agencies that can use the canines for detection purposes.
“Your dog is there to save people,” Johnson said. “He’s the one who is going to come in contact with danger first or face the risk first.”
The MWD foster puppy program places fosters with puppies every few weeks after they are born at the JBSA-Lackland whelping facility.
For more information on how to foster, call 210-671-3686.