Army patrol dog retires to Fayetteville
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Late last month, an Army veteran traveled from Seattle to Fayetteville, where he will spend his retirement.
On the way, he was hailed as a hero.
In airports, he was saluted and cheered.
On the plane, the pilot announced his presence to a round of applause, and a flight attendant dutifully pinned a pair of wings on his uniform.
And, throughout the long flight, small children and their parents paid him short visits, to talk and scratch behind his ears.
Brit is an 8-year-old German shepherd who has spent his entire life — about 56 dog years — in military service.
But now, Brit is enjoying retirement in the home of Mark and Jasmine Russell in west Fayetteville.
The couple's adoption of Brit became official in June after a months-long wait.
Mark Russell is a veteran himself who once served in the 82nd Airborne Division. His wife is a wildlife enthusiast who has nursed countless animals back to health after natural disasters.
In the Army, K-9 Brit K049 — his full name, per military documents — served as a patrol narcotics detection dog for a military police unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
In that role, he lived a regimented life; Brit was fed twice a day, kept in top physical condition and rewarded only when working.
In retirement, the Russells are turning Brit into a spoiled child.
For the first few days of his civilian life, Brit only put down his favorite toy to eat.
During the day, he lounges on a mattress in the Russells' living room. Or he plays with Spirit, the Russells' other German shepherd that Jasmine calls Brit's "girlfriend."
"It's unreal," Mark Russell said. "You expect a military dog to be rough and tough. But he's a big baby. He has such a calm demeanor."
The Russells began their quest to adopt a military working dog in late 2011.
The couple wanted to provide a life of luxury to an animal that had served its country.
"These beautiful animals deserve more," Jasmine Russell said. "Often, they are forgotten warriors."
Still, the wait was trying at times, they said.
"Every time we thought we had him there was more paperwork," Mark Russell said of the 11-month process. "But the people at Fort Lewis had the dog's best interests in mind."
Once Brit was in hand, the trip from Seattle was inspiring, Mark Russell said.
Delta Airlines made sure Brit had the nicest accommodations, he said, allowing Brit to fly untethered in first class, sending officials to airport terminals to make sure the trip went off smoothly and providing Brit and Russell access to airport lounges
In airports in Seattle and Atlanta, Brit was repeatedly given a hero's welcome.
"They were thanking him for his service," Mark Russell said. "Everybody wanted pictures. They couldn't believe you could adopt these guys."
About 600 military working dogs are deployed, but many people still don't realize the work and sacrifices made by four-legged soldiers, Mark Russell said.
He hopes more people will begin giving the dogs a good home, but cautions that military working dogs would not fit every family.
"These are not young dogs," he said. "They have issues. Brit can't move his right rear leg much. He's only got about two or three years left."
"But it was worth every day of those 11 months we waited," Jasmine Russell said. "I can't belive how smart and how good he is. He gets along with everybody great."
For years, Jasmine Russell served as a foster parent for the state and animal control agencies.
Often, that meant caring for dozens of animals, from beavers — four lived in her bathtub after the Hope Mills Lake dam failed — to deer and squirrels.
With Brit, Jasmine Russell said, the goal is still rehabilitative, but not for the dog.
The Russells hope to put Brit through therapy dog training so he can visit nearby hospitals.
"I think he would be very good with children," Mark Russell said. "He loves kids. He's a showoff."
Drew Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.