A while back I brought you the story of Laika H267, a retired Belgian Malinois military dog. I’d had an “encounter” with her before she retired, during my research for my book Soldier Dogs. I’d tried my hand at being a decoy for her, and she galloped up to me and sank her teeth into my (protected, thank heavens) arm. It was an experience I won’t soon forget -– one that taught me the power of even a small military working dog like Laika.
She retired just a few months ago, and in early March she was adopted into a great home in Dallas by very loving owners Jay and Pam Knight, who already owned a fellow Malinois, Chief.
Since discovering his dog was featured in my book, Jay has been writing me about Laika’s adjustment to civilian life. I love following her progress, and think you might, too. Here are the edited highlights of Jay’s email diary, broken up by the months I received the entries:
Having now been home just two weeks, Laika’s 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 housetrained, as you know, so we are working on that, but she’s just a great dog.
The kennel sores were pretty bad. They weren’t oozing, but they were calloused over, and all over her paws and legs. Our vet said that she looked just like a dog that had spent a lot of time in the pound. They were also very long and wide, if that makes any sense — they were extremely noticeable. She is still healing.
(Note from Maria: This is something I would like to see improve for military working dogs. Not all dogs will chew up their beds. There should be a way for those who won’t destroy bedding to have it –- even if it’s the rubbery raised bed some kennels use. It’s better than concrete. And dogs like Laika, who have arthritis, really need something. If nothing else, the DOD should look at this as an opportunity to help the dogs last longer.)
Laika is still coming out of her shell. She is getting more comfortable on the bed. Until recently, she would get on the bed and be hesitant about it, not really sure about anything. Last night, she commandeered a pillow to lay her head on, and then she refused to move off the bed when it was time for the final wee’s and doo’s.
Her progress and change in disposition just make us laugh. That an animal who served in the rigidity of the military for as long as she did was able to change in four weeks time, and be trusting, is just amazing.
We also don’t know exactly what her background was, but knowing she was a patrol dog, we know it was dual purpose. She seems to feel much better when she can walk around from room to room and closet to closet and check everything out. When Laika gets to pacing a bunch, Pam will put her on the leash, take her from room to room and each closet, and she seems to feel better.
Laika thinks it’s her job to clean the dishes. All the smells, the flavors — if you need to find her or want her to come over to you and she’s being stubborn, just open the dishwasher. The dog is fearless. She sticks her head into whatever drawer comes open (and she is so small compared to Chief that sometimes we don’t see her) and then she gets her head shut in the door. Of course, she then enjoys all the fawning we give her when that happens.
Laika is very interested in helicopters. We live a few blocks from a hospital and Life Flight regularly flies over. When we’re outside, she looks for it and then watches it. Not sure if it means anything, but it’s interesting nonetheless. She has more than a passing interest in it, I’ll say. We wonder if she’s been in them; most likely they remind her of Lackland Air Force Base.
She has a “friend” in a lizard living in the backyard. She recently discovered it; she goes from bush to bush, looking for it and then following it; apparently she has extremely good eyesight. Her first order of business in racing out into the backyard is to check the bushes for the lizard.
Most of her kennel sores are gone. There were some really big ones we didn’t think would ever go away, but hair is growing over them.
She’s just the perfect house dog. Pam looked at me one evening a couple of weeks ago and said, “Oh, crap, I just love her so much.” It’s hard to understand for non-dog owners, but being in our house, you’d think she’s always been here.
Pam just took this photo; looks like the ol’ girl was smiling during her “happy, happy,” as we call it. Can’t figure out what else to call it.
She gets up on the couch or bed, stops, does a nose dive into it (slow motion, mind you), and rubs all along her face and then her neck and back. And then she rolls back and forth, back and forth, hoping someone will pet her belly so she can chew on your shirt, skin, or fingers. Then she stops and is calm, and usually falls asleep.
My parents visited. As with any new dog, you are always concerned about how he or she will do with new people. Well, when my parents sat down on the couch, she marched right over and sat on both of them and laid her head down and went to sleep. Pam and I looked at each other in disbelief. Not that we expected her to be unfriendly, but wow!
She seems to love all manner of people. She has a special fondness for this old man down the street. I’m pretty sure he’s a veteran. If he’s driving down the street, for example, and sees Laika out for a walk, he will drive out of his way, call Pam over, and get out of the car to hug Laika.
She has learned or at least become interested in playing ball. For an old lady, she can move. Goes after the ball and literally attacks it with gusto. Then she proceeds to skin it — yes, she loves to skin the cover off. And they’re the non-abrasive Kong balls, at $5 a pop! But she enjoys it immensely, so we let her have at it. Of course, all the while Chief is wondering, What the heck?
When we go to the vet, she insists on what we call “clearing the office.” She goes methodically through every room and every office, sniffing everywhere. When she’s there and Pam gets ready to leave, even all the vets stop whatever they are doing to watch her clear the entire building. We aren’t sure what to do if she ever picks up on something!
She is a horrible sleeper at night, meaning she kicks and barks during her sleep. If you let her sleep in your bed, it’ll be a restless night. But she curls up right next to you and just lays against you all night long. The barking in her sleep will keep you awake, however. We wonder what she’s barking at.
You’d never know that she used to do what she did. No one who meets her believes she could bite someone, so we show them the picture in your book Soldier Dogs. She’s just settled in and seems to be enjoying her retirement. She seems very happy in her new life.
This morning, we finally gave up and let her have the blanket she earlier decided to claim, and we let her do whatever she wants with it. So she drags it around with her and lays with it, gnaws on it, and curls up with it.
Postscript from Maria: Looks like Laika really hit the doggy lottery! Did you enjoy sharing her transition to civilian life? Let us know in the comments!