Editor’s note: This is the first of a three part series on the retirement of a military working dog.
Feeding time can be one of the most intense moments at the 52nd Security Forces Squadron kennel.
The military working dogs all in their cages bark EXTRA louder. They spin and jump around EXTRA faster. To them, the minutes before they receive their delicious kibbles seem to go EXTRA slower.
But today, one dog, Robson, is unusually serene compared to the frenzy going around him. Where they bark and whine for the attention of the human dishing out the food, the German shepherd’s eyes are fixated outside the view of the kennel door.
He presses his snout below the gated door and outstretches his front paws beside it. His expression is focused, and his ears twitch at the slightest movement emanating from beyond the outside door.
But Robson’s manner is completely understandable to his fellow human Defender dishing out the food.
“He knows his Daddy is here,” said Staff Sgt. Shannon Hennessy, 52nd SFS MWD handler and Colusa, Calif., native.
Just half an hour before feeding, Robson played in the MWD training field with a most unexpected person: his former handler of four years who last parted ways with him almost a year ago.
David Simpson, a former dog handler, last played with Robson on the same field before being medically retired in May 2013. He’s now a full-time college student studying business administration at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.
And after completing a 10-hour flight across the Atlantic, Simpson came back to see his former partner’s official retirement ceremony March 10 after six years with the 52nd SFS.
“It was like seeing your best friend after a long time,” Simpson said. “Being able to play with him and show him my love – it’s good to see him again.”
But the main surprise for Robson wasn’t just the chance to see his former handler as a guest at his party or as a companion for a game of fetch on their old stomping grounds.
Simpson came back to be his new owner.
“It was very difficult leaving – it just broke my heart,” Simpson said. “I’m just so happy to be back and take him home. It’s a good feeling to have my best friend back.”
That mention of friendship comes with the territory of being an MWD handler with security forces.
“Robson and I have been through a lot,” Simpson said. “We developed a strong bond over the course of four years. When I left, it was like leaving a best friend. When I left the military, it was difficult saying bye to everybody, but the hardest part was leaving him. In my head, I didn’t know if he’d understand.”
Yet somehow through the way he punted the slobber-covered plastic ball back to his former and future master, Robson seemed to convey his gratitude for his return.
In his own way, the past 10 months were just a brief interlude between the adventures the two once had on patrol and the ones they’d soon have along the outskirts of Tampa Bay in the Sunshine State.
For now, the hardest task would be the waiting for that new chapter in their lives to start. And the only thing standing between them and that new chapter would be a ceremony and another flight back to the states.
So as the handlers dish out the food to his fellow K9s, Robson decided to take his time, pressing his cold nose through the grate.
It’s as if he knew if he could manage through a few more days at the kennel, he could handle five more minutes before his meal.