March 21, 2012 - Not every U.S. soldier wears a uniform and uses a gun. Some wear only a collar and use their cold, wet noses to fight the enemy.
Pictured (from left) are Petco/Auburn Hills General Mgr. Dan McCarney, U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dave Zanin, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 108 Vice President Pat Pitel and President Pat Bliss. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
You don't hear much about their service, but military working dogs are a vital part of the War on Terror.
Thanks to Oxford American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Unit 108 and Dan McCarney, general manager of the Petco store in Auburn Hills, 20 military working dogs stationed at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan received more than $1,000 worth of canine supplies, ranging from necessities to those little extras than really enhance a pooch's life.
"That definitely lifted the morale," said U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dave Zanin, of Oxford, who recently returned home following a 10-month deployment to Bagram.
"The got everything in time for Christmas," noted Pat Pitel, vice president of the Ladies Auxiliary
Zanin and Pitel, along with Auxiliary President Pat Bliss, visited McCarney at his 4820 S. Baldwin Rd. store Saturday to present him with two certificates of appreciation for his efforts.
When Pitel originally approached McCarney with the laundry list of canine supplies needed at Bagram Airfield, she was simply inquiring as to the type of discounts Petco might offer on the items. She didn't expect him to ensure every single item was donated.
"He's our hero," Pitel said.
"It was a godsend to us," Bliss said.
McCarney was grateful for the opportunity to help.
"The whole store was excited about it," he said. "I'm really happy we could do something like this. I wish we could have done more."
McCarney gave most of the credit to Petco's vendors.
"I got together with our vendors and said, 'Hey, here's the situation, here's what we're trying to do. Can you guys help out?'" he explained. "I had cases and cases of items donated by our vendors. Every time (Pitel) came in, I just loaded up shopping carts for her and sent them out the door."
But the vendors weren't the only ones who did their part.
McCarney indicated store employees also purchased items and donated them to the military working dogs.
"Everybody did their part. It was really a good feeling," he said. "Everybody here is committed to animals, so when something like this comes up, everybody jumps on board."
Donated items included leashes, toys (such as frisbees and tennis balls), dog treats and biscuits, pooper scoopers, portable/disposable bowls for water and food, special shampoo, etc.
"Everything you can think of for dogs," Pitel said.
A total of 39 boxes, containing supplies for both the military working dogs and their handlers, were packed by Auxiliary members and shipped to Bagram Airfield back in December.
Should Auxiliary Unit 108 ever do another drive for the military's hard-working canines, McCarney indicated he'd be more than happy to pitch in again.
"They have a very grueling job over there," he said. "They sniff out bombs in the sand and heat. I'll do everything I can for them."
Serving with the 785th Military Police Battalion, Zanin witnessed first-hand how "extremely valuable" military working dogs are.
"We see the dogs out there all the time," he said. "They're doing the same jobs we are."
The dogs do everything from sniffing out explosives and drugs to helping with guard duty. "They're pretty versatile. Some of them are trained in multiple areas," Zanin said. "Their senses are more keen than ours, so they're able to pick up on a lot of things that we can't."
A variety of breeds are used including Malamutes, German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, according to Zanin.
Working so closely together day and night, the dogs and their handlers get very attached to each other.
"Canine people are very close to their animals," Zanin said. "For these soldiers, that's their partner.
"If anything happened to them, that would be like me losing one of my (fellow) soldiers. That's how tight-knit the relationship between the soldier and canine is."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.