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Laika the Military Dog Adjusts to Civilian Life

After years spent as a military working dog, Laika the Belgian Malinois is enjoying a quieter life with her new civilian owners.

 |  May 1st 2012  |   20 Contributions


Last year I was attacked by a Belgian Malinois -- the same kind of dog that reportedly accompanied the Navy SEALs in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound last year. Fortunately I knew it was coming, since I was briefly playing decoy at Lackland Air Force Base during the research for my book, Soldier Dogs. I wore a bite sleeve to protect my arm, and followed the instructions of a seasoned pro so I wouldn’t get into trouble.

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Me "catching" Laika at Lackland Air Force Base last year. (Photo by Robin Jerstad)

As the dog, Laika H267, ran toward me, I tried not to think about a handler I’d met earlier who’d just had his ear ripped off by one of these dogs. Here’s a short excerpt from my book of the experience of “catching a dog,” as it’s called:

I start shaking my giant, sleeved arm as instructed at the Malinois so she’ll be attracted to that part of my body and not (oh, just for instance) my ear. As she runs toward me, Brooks tells me to freeze. I stop moving so she she’ll get a good bite on the targeted body part.

Laika is leashed just in case, but the impact is strong. She sends me reeling back a step, and the sleeve crashes into my body. She starts tearing at the sleeve and as I agitate it again she digs in, front paws pushing against my stomach and then my thigh for more leverage. Her bite is steady and strong. The power of this dog’s mouth is awesome. Without this sleeve, I’d be a bloody mess.

Having Laika on my arm starts to be almost fun. Brooks tells me I can growl at her, so I do and she digs in harder. Then he tells me they always praise a dog, so I tell her what a good girl she is before I realize that as the bad guy I’m probably not the one who is supposed to praise her. But she continues biting just as hard, unfazed by my complimentary words, and perhaps a little concerned about my apparent mood swings. Then Brooks comes over and gives Laika a friendly “atta girl” pat.

“Decoy, stop resisting!” he shouts to me, and I stop moving my arm. “Out!” he calls to the dog. Laika stops biting, but on the way down, quickly butts my torso with her nose. “Sit!” She sits. “Stay.” I back away several steps when he tells me to. Laika trots off with her handler, and as she does, she turns around and looks at me with what could only be a “Wait till next time” expression.

I thought that would be the last time I’d hear from Laika, unless she came sneaking up on me in the streets of San Francisco one day to finish the job. So in March, on the day after my book came out, I was surprised to get an e-mail from a man named Jay Knight:

"Wanted to let you know that two weeks ago we got the dog that gave the author her bite at Lackland AFB, Laika H267.  She is at home with us in Dallas, TX and is awesome!!”

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Jay Knight with military-working-dog-turned-couch-potato Laika (left) and the other Malinois housemate, Chief. (Chief was always a civilian dog.)

I had to know more. How did Laika go from being a fighting machine to being adopted by a couple in Dallas? I asked Jay how she was doing. He wrote back:

“She is GREAT!! She has blended in well with our male Malinois, Chief (92lbs), and is extremely sweet. Having now been home just two weeks, her personality is just starting to come out, and she's finally started rolling over on her back and loves to sit on the couch and be petted.  She's not house trained, as you know, so we are working on that, but she's just a great dog.”

Wait, this dog who ran to bite me and gave me that “It’s not over, lady” nose shove at the end of our encounter is extremely sweet? I had to know more!

Here are some things I found out from Jay about the dog I assumed was a lean, mean semi-assassin:

• Laika was discharged from the Department of Defense at 9.5 years.  She will be 10 this October. In other words, she is a canine senior citizen.

• She was 52 pounds –- definitely on the small side for the breed.

• She has metal in one of her legs. The Knights’ vet says her DOD medical records indicate she broke a bone, which was corrected with steel rods and screws. She sort of sits funny, and the Knights say you can sort of see where it is. The injury is probably why she became a training aide at Lackland after her war dog career. (There is no public record of she did on active duty or where she deployed.)

• She is on a steady diet of CoQ10 and Rimadyl for her aches and pains.

Okay, so my big adventure of catching a tough Malinois was looking like this: She was an old lady dog with a metal implant in a leg, and she takes meds and supplements for her creaky bones and joints.

Wow, I was sure one tough dude to take her on! Yeah, I was set upon by the canine equivalent of Granny Clampett and lived to tell about it!

Jay and I have been in regular contact about Laika’s new life as a nonmilitary dog. I’ll be bringing you reports of her adjustment in the coming weeks. Just a sneak preview: She is really happy.

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You may look at this picture and say "Awwww!" but I look at it and can hear her saying,"Yo! Maria! I'm watching you. I know where you live." ;) (Note the pool: A nice place she's gotten herself after 9.5 years in the military.)

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