Army veteran’s dogs on Europe tour give troops golden ticket to TikTok celebrities
Stars and Stripes October 19, 2023
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. service members waiting for a military flight to Kuwait on Wednesday received a surprise visit from two TikTok stars, who greeted them with wagging tails and an occasional kiss.
Spunky golden retrievers Ellie and Emma stopped by the USO center at the Ramstein Air Base passenger terminal with owners Kevin and Katie Bubolz.
More than 6 million people follow the couple and their dogs at Golden Retriever Life, where the Bubolzes post dog training tips and advice as well as comical clips of Ellie and Emma.
“It was awesome,” said Master Sgt. Tunisia Miles, en route from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., who grabbed a selfie with the dogs. “They were the cutest.”
The couple and the dogs are on their first overseas trip together as part of a “mission to spread smiles.” They’ve visited several European cities and USO centers in Poland and Germany.
Planned stops Thursday at the USO centers in Landstuhl and at Rhine Ordnance Barracks are their last military visits, Kevin Bubolz said.
A former Army helicopter pilot who served nearly eight years in the military, Bubolz said including the USO on their five-week European tour with Ellie and Emma is “just our way of giving back.”
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, Bubolz’s unit was accompanied by a chaplain’s service dog, a black Lab named Zac. The dog brought comfort to the soldiers, helped reduce loneliness and even flew with them while wearing specialized hearing protection, Bubolz said.
The experience inspired him to get Ellie and train her as a therapy dog for schools, hospitals and nursing homes. During the pandemic, when that volunteer work was shut down, the couple pivoted to social media and added Emma to the family.
One of the more popular videos shows Ellie engaging in a taste tournament, where Bubolz instructs her to lick pairs of different foods before telling her to “take” one. It turns out mango is one of her favorite foods and she chooses it over a piece of meat. The clip has drawn more than 12.7 million views on TikTok.
The couple’s latest social media content highlights their European travels. The dogs are shown with U.S. soldiers in Poland, where they showed service members some of their tricks, joined a game of ping pong and received lots of hugs.
“We’ve seen a lot of smiles from people all over the world, lots of military service members, which has been quite fun to see the impact that these two can have,” Bubolz said.