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NEWS | Sept. 26, 2008

Foster families prepare working dogs for duty

By Meredith Canales 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

When Military Working Dog Puppy Consultant Burgess Beall got his first foster puppy, Zzelda, from the Military Working Dog Puppy Program on Lackland, he never foresaw the day when someone would actually want to pay him to play with puppies all day.

"I started with the program in 2005," he said. "My wife and I saw a blurb in the Express-News about the program, and since we've always been dog people we thought it would be good to give it a try." 

After fostering dogs for a couple of years, Mr. Beall came in to work with the Military Working Dog program in the spring of 2007.

"I just couldn't believe I was so lucky to get the job, and after a while at that, they asked me to come work with the puppies. The only thing better than getting to work with dogs all day is getting to work with puppies all day," he said.

The puppy program is designed to foster out military working dog puppies to caregivers in the San Antonio area. Foster parents care for the dogs from the time they are nine weeks old to the time they are seven months old. Though it is difficult, said Mr. Beall, to give up the puppies, it is also an age picked for a very specific purpose.

"They're going through their teenage phase at that time," he said. "Though you love them very much and have bonded with them, it's not as hard to give them up. You don't necessarily want to spend as much time with them at that point because they're acting out a little bit, just like human teenagers would."

Foster parent Pat Lyons, who is retired Army and understands the job the military working dogs do, said he doesn't bond with the dogs as much as his own dog at home.

"You have to treat them a little bit differently," he said. "You know you're keeping them for a specific purpose, so you don't get as close to them as you would a regular puppy. It makes it easier to give the puppy up, too."

His wife, Capt. Sandra Lyons, who works at Wilford Hall, said she decided to foster puppies not just because they were cute but also for a very good reason.

"I look at it as giving back to the Air Force," she said, holding feisty, 5-month-old Ttia back as she jumped around playfully on her leash. "These dogs are very valuable to our protection, and it's one small thing I can do to help out."

As for the oddly spelled names, Mr. Beall said it's the way all litters are named.

"All the dogs are bred here on Lackland," he said. "When a litter is born, they're assigned a letter. Like Zzelda's litter was a Z litter. Then they get a name starting with that letter. So that's how you recognize a military working dog puppy, washout or retiree. They'll have a repeated consonant at the front of their names."

Mr. Beall counts himself among the lucky.

"I get to come to work every day and play with puppies," he said. "Even when I don't have any here, the foster parents bring the dogs in sometimes as kind of like a doggy day care. I really do have the best job ever."

For information on how to foster a military working dog puppy, call 671-0845.