Four-legged friends bring smiles to KMC

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tabatha Chapman
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them filling an emptiness that we don't even know we have”- Thorn Jones.

Being away from family, friends and the comforts of home can be challenging for those who are stationed overseas. Some have had the heartbreaking event of leaving their furry friends back home due to the cost of flights and strict policies for traveling abroad.

Ramstein Air Base recognized the need for animal interactions for its community and was given the opportunity to provide its members a chance to interact with service dogs from the program K9s for Vets Abroad.

K9s for Vets Abroad is a non-profit program founded by Richard Rice, an Army veteran and service dog owner.

“Our mission is to provide quality service dogs to the U.S. Veterans living in the states and abroad who are suffering from physical and mental trauma to improve both their lives and the lives of those who care about them,” said Rice. “It is important to us that our dogs are able to fulfill their duties for those in need.”

The service dogs of the program are carefully trained from an early age and develop skills that allow them to work and interact with the public. They go through rigorous testing for their temperament, how they react to people and other animals, and pass a public access test.

The training these service dogs receive gives them the freedom to make regular visits to places such as the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the passenger terminal at Ramstein AB, to bring morale and awareness of the program within the area.

A special pair of yellow labrador retrievers, Irma and Penny, or “the Blondes” as they are affectionately called, along with their handlers, Natasha Davis and Tiffany Danahy, military member spouses and program volunteers, are seasoned professionals when it comes to spreading wags and smiles to the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

One opportunity for the Blondes to shine is during events in front of the Base Exchange on Ramstein Air Base.

“We get to dress them up for every holiday,” said Danahy. “For Easter we put bunny ears on them and on the Fourth of July we have red, white and blue tutus. They get pretty popular when they are all dolled up!”

Davis said they can always tell when someone wants to pet the dogs, due to the high-pitched squeaky voice or a big smile on their face.

“You can see when someone is stressed, they didn’t have the best day or it’s been rough for them in general and we provide some puppy therapy and they slowly light up!” said Davis. “When we visit LRMC or the terminal the staff members spread the word that we’ve arrived or jump on their intercoms to let everyone know ‘Irma and Penny are here!’”.

There are Airmen who are living in dorms and they haven’t seen a dog in quite awhile and getting to see Irma and Penny helps them feel like they are at home again, said Danahy.

“They jump at the chance to get on the floor and cuddle with them,” said Davis. “They often tell us ‘I needed this today’. The dogs can pick up right away if someone is feeling down, they’ve got that special intuition.”

If you find yourself at events, LRMC, or at the passenger terminal, be on the lookout for a couple of cute yellow Labrador Retrievers with red vests. They would love to make your day!