SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – They provide dedicated service to our country overseas and they save countless lives.
But, our canine veterans can often face a much different fate than their human counterparts when their careers come to an end.
After they finish their service, many war dogs are abandoned and left to fend for themselves in a far off country.
Some are even euthanized.
A local couple says that’s not right, and they are fighting to give four-legged veterans the retirement they deserve.
Life is good for Mazzie and Geli as they take in the golden years with their new family in Fruit Heights.
But, if these former working dogs could talk, oh the stories they could tell.
“You can think about what they’ve been through when you see Mazzie be very afraid when we are out in public. He tucks his tail, he sticks really close to Jim and he won’t look people in the eye. So, he’s been through a lot,” said Linda Crismer.
Linda and her husband Jim don’t know many details about the past of their furry family members, but they do know they both worked in Kuwait detecting drugs.
The two are part of a long legacy of canines trained to sniff out hidden explosives, keep the peace in detention facilities and much more.
All in the name of national security.
“They estimate these dogs save, I’ve heard numbers of anywhere from 150 and 250 lives, each dog,” Jim said.
Former handler John Logie is one of those lives.
“I definitely credit Balto for saving my life,” said Logie.
It was May of 2010 when the two were working with a contractor helping Canadian forces clear compounds potentially under ISIS control in Afghanistan.
Balto got onto the scent of an underground I.E.D.
As the dog was pointing it out, Logie hit a secondary device.
He suffered several injuries, including having both eardrums blown out, but he knows it would have been worse if he had hit the primary device.
“If I would of stepped on that, it would have taken both my legs right off and I wouldn’t be here today.”
After that day, Logie went years without seeing his faithful friend.
After his service to our country was complete, Balto came to Utah to live out the final four years of his life with Logie and his family.
“Just amazing! It was awesome having him around the house, the kids loved to have him around, we had a lot of good time,” said Logie.
Not all of their canine colleagues get the same opportunity as Balto, Mazzie, and Geli.
“That really concerns me that those dogs have gone out and risked their lives, saved lives, and all that, and we just abandon them. They are U.S. Dogs, they are American dogs, so they ought to be brought home,” Jim said.
That is now the Crismer’s mission in life.
“Not how we thought we’d be spending our retirement, but here we are,” said Linda.
They have teamed up with a Texas-based organization known as Mission K9 Rescue to bring as many dogs home as possible.
To date, they have placed more than 250 dogs with loving families.
In addition, they have reunited more than 275 K9s with their wartime handlers.
But, a huge obstacle stands in the way, funding!
“I always think someday I’ll talk to the right person and that will make a difference. And, it makes me almost tear up to think that that has happened,” Linda said.
The Crismer’s randomly ran into Representative Chris Stewart at a Memorial Day event at the State Capitol.
Seeing him as that right person, they set up a meeting to tell him more about the effort.
Stewart agreed to run an appropriations amendment, which passed the House with lightning speed for congressional standards.
“I get real, as you can tell, I get emotional about it for some reason. I never thought I’d be this way. We’ve had pets our whole life, but there’s something about them,” said Jim.
The $200,000 appropriation is expected to save some 200 war dogs if it passes the Senate and is signed by the president.
A salute to these forgotten war heroes who give their all to a mission they didn’t choose.
“You’ve got to look at these dogs, these war dogs as veterans because that’s what they are,” Logie said.
“They’ve worked hard, they gave their whole life, and I think that’s what a hero is,” Linda said.
A statue of Mazzie with his work vest on is in the works for the Vietnam Memorial in Layton.
The statue will face the wall to portray him looking over, and honoring all those who went before him.