Tysons Pet Spa Works to Equip the Dogs of War

By Aymar Jean
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 24, 2005

At her Army base in Mosul, Iraq, where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, Maj. Jennifer Damko contends with burdens of war on a daily basis. But while working to keep her troops alive and well, Damko also nurtures the camp's war dogs, which sniff out bombs and enemies and are often on the precipice of danger.

"Right now, we have 7 dogs and 3 three more are on the way. The room is getting cramped so you can imagine the daily grumblings over the toys, " Damko wrote in an e-mail.

"There is nothing better than forgetting for a moment that I'm in a war zone and just 'hang' with the dogs. Don't get me wrong, the handlers are great soldiers and sailors, but nothing can replace the look in the dog's eyes when you stop playing with him and his toy."

A Tysons Corner dog spa, Happy Tails, is reaching out to officers such as Damko and the war's often overlooked dogs. The spa has been collecting donations for war dogs and their handlers, sending more than 300 pounds of donated items and planning to send about 400 more. They have sent such supplies as dog biscuits and bones, lip balm for handlers and dogs, and magazines for handlers to camps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, it will hold its first charity dog wash to raise money for more sophisticated war dog equipment, mainly cooling devices and dog goggles -- called "doggles" -- for Iraq's sandstorms.

"These dogs love their jobs, but they didn't have a lot of choice in the matter," said Amy Nichols, chief executive of Happy to be Here Inc., the Happy Tails franchise company.

Happy Tails, having raised about $400, is hoping to raise more than $1,000 today for the equipment. Doggles cost about $15 a pair, Nichols said, while cooling vests for dogs cost upwards of $50. The spa figures that with four bathtubs and volunteer washers and dryers, they can wash about 150 dogs. There is a suggested donation of $10, though a typical wash costs $25 at Happy Tails. The event will take place at the spa, on Tyco Road off Route 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ron Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association, estimates that there are more than 100 dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. These dogs sniff out bombs, find booby traps and detect hidden enemies in war zones, services particularly useful in Iraq, said Aiello, who was a Marine dog handler in Vietnam. The United States, he said, has been using war dogs since World War I.

"If they're a good dog team, and they're doing their job properly, nobody should get hurt," Aiello said. He said his unit suffered no casualties in Vietnam thanks to him and his dog, Stormy.

The War Dogs Association has been collecting items and money since troops went to Afghanistan, collecting and distributing sunscreen -- for dogs and handlers -- toys and even beef jerky. The group has sent 250 care packages.

"It lets them know there are people back in the United States who care about them and wish them a safe return," Aiello said.

His group has collected donations from other dog spas across the country. Classy Clippe Pet Salon in Lancaster, Pa., has given $1,500, all of which went for cooling equipment. Classy Clippe owner Gaye Albright-Rock, 42, said she was motivated because her husband, Brian Rock, is in the Army National Guard.

"The dogs are really suffering from the heat. Apparently, it's 130 degrees over there," Albright-Rock said.

Happy Tails employee Kasey Perry, 19, of Alexandria said she feels particularly moved by this fundraiser. Her husband is based at Fort Myers.

"It hits me closer to the heart I guess, because I know how it is," she said. "And the guys who are over there handling the dogs are away from their families, and the doggies are also away from the places that they're used to."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company