Who We Are
Brian is a veteran of the United States Army who retired in May 2016 after thirty years of dedicated service. He now works as a veterans outreach recruiter for Level Solar. He has done multiple overseas deployments, including to Bosnia and Afghanistan, and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.
Brian most recently served as the kennel master for his brigade’s Tactical Explosives Detection (TEDD) detachment where he was responsible for the detachment’s dogs and handlers, a task which includes continuing the dogs’ and handlers’ training, and the general care and health of the dogs, as well as advising units on how to use the teams to their potential.
When he is not working, Brian is passionate about educating people about history, working dogs, and fieldcraft skills. He likes to spend his weekends at reenactments and living history events, where he portrays a US soldier in varying time periods, or on the training field with our local dog club, where he often takes the role of decoy for bitework or of the missing person for wilderness search-and-rescue training.
Chris worked in the medical field for 17 years as a medic, a Red Cross case manager and a critical care technician. She has a degree in chemical dependency and is currently working for Benchmark Family Services.
Chris has more than 10 years experience training and handling dogs, which began with volunteering as a foster and transporter for several rescues. While living in Virginia, Chris trained with Coleen Pelar and Robin Bennett, which helped build her foundation for positive, balanced dog training methods. Chris has been active in Therapy Dog work, obedience, herding, and assorted other sports and activities.
Chris enjoys educating people about history, working dogs of all kinds, responsible dog ownership, and dog bite prevention. She has also been a Service Dog advocate and educator for the past nine years. In her free time, she enjoys photography, geocaching, and running with her dog, Toska. Chris also serves as the webmaster for this website.
Toska is Chris and Brian’s current competition dog. Born Red Star i’Toska at Mark Keating and Irina Shimko’s Wisconsin kennel, Red Star, Toska brings the best of the Belgian Malinois breed to the table: she is a driven, intelligent, fast-learning young dog with a natural talent for nosework.
Toska was initially trained using the same methods and standards as the military working dogs in Brian’s Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) detachment. She’s also learning obedience, fun tricks, and protection work. Toska currently competes in conformation, rally obedience, lure coursing, and nosework in addition to serving as DFDK9’s demo dog.
Ronja was Chris and Brian’s prior Belgian Malinois. A retired police dog, Ronja joined the family in spring of 2009 at seven years old and quickly adjusted to her active retirement. Ronja was trained as a patrol dog and enjoyed bitework, playing with a tug, and chasing after balls.
Ronja earned her AKC Canine Good Citizen and her Therapy Dogs International certifications within a month of joining the family and began work as a Therapy Dog and as a canine ambassador. As a Therapy Dog, Ronja visited with soldiers and family members, and as a canine ambassador, she visited a number of civic organizations and schools to help teach about working dogs, dog safety, and bite prevention. Ronja also served as DFDK9’s demo dog for four years, until she lost her fight with cancer in October 2013.
Abby was the original dog that inspired Dogs for Defense K-9. Bred from imported parents, this German Shepherd found herself in the local shelter where she was noticed by Chris. Although she was dog reactive and had no prior training, she quickly came around and earned her AKC Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dogs International certifications.
Abby participated in many reenactments, served as a breed ambassador, worked as a Therapy Dog at a nursing home with a program for the memory impaired, was a mascot for Army Recruiting, was the poster dog for Take Your Dog to Work Day, and participated in many different dog activities, including sheep herding and rally obedience. In 2010, Abby was adopted by Officer Wilson and his family, and she is now enjoying her leisurely retirement in warm Virginia.
What We Do
Our organization, Dogs for Defense K-9, began when we started putting together a display and demonstrations showcasing the history of military working dogs throughout the 20th and 21st Century, which includes their use during the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the conflicts since.
Our mission, as it’s shown in abbreviated form in our logo, is threefold: education, history, and training.
To us, this means that our primary mission is to educate the public. Although we started with our display about the history of military working dogs, we also offer educational materials on our website, along with talks and displays, about a variety of subjects that are dog-related, including:
- dog bite prevention
- canine body language
- therapy dogs
- service dogs
- military working dogs
We have been involved in Service Dog advocacy work, which includes speaking to businesses and civic organizations about the many different jobs that Service Dogs can do for persons with disabilities, the training these dogs have and minimum public access standards they should meet, and the laws surrounding Service Dog access. We also try to chime in whenever people have an unclear understanding about the differences between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs.
Our second mission, and the primary reason we started Dogs for Defense K-9 initially, is to educate the public about the history and uses of military working dogs. Although many people have some familiarity with famous historical names such as Rin-Tin-Tin, Stubby, Smoky, and Chips, people don’t generally know much about the history of military working dogs and what services these dogs performed. (Three out of the four we just named were mascots, not working dogs, for example!)
Our military working dog display includes a large number of historical artifacts related to the war dogs of yesterday, from training equipment to books and magazines about their exploits. Caption cards and small posters give a history on the dogs and the items, allowing people to peruse the display on their own time. The display also includes modern working dog equipment, such as bite sleeves used in the training of these dogs, that visitors can touch and try on. Of course, we always encourage questions, too!
We try to include a little bit of everything related to military working dogs into our display, including some of the well-known mascot dogs (like Stubby and Yorkie), as well as current uses of the dogs, which include military therapy dogs who visit with the soldiers downrange and in military hospitals stateside. We also hope to give people an appreciation of what these dogs experience during their working lifespan by introducing them to the DOD’s puppy program where the next generation of working pups is being raised, to informing them about some of the injuries and illnesses faced by these dogs, including the currently-studied canine version of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The third and last part of what we do is training, which is largely about the commitment that we’ve made to our own personal dogs and their initial and continuing training to ensure that they are good canine citizens, ambassadors of their breed, and involved in sports and activities where they are able to use their natural instincts and exercise both mind and body.
Although we don’t offer any training classes, we offer many informative articles and links through our website to help encourage others to be active with their dogs and include them in activities that are fun for both dog and owner. The last thing we ever want to see are folks just tying their dogs up in the yard or leaving them home all the time – that does the dogs a great disservice.
If you are in upstate New York and have an interest in getting involved in a variety of dog activities, please make sure you check out our local training club, the Watertown Working Dog Club at Canine College. The club trains in a variety of venues and is always looking for new dog activities to bring to the area. It’s a great club full of knowledgeable, experienced folks who like to go and work with their dogs.
Dogs for Defense K-9 began on a very small scale not too long after German Shepherd Abby joined our family when we adopted her from the shelter in 2007. Although we previously had a series of foster dogs, Abby was the first dog that was our family dog and with whom we started getting involved in not just “dog things,” such as adoption days, rescue reunions, and hiking, but also in other activities, such as traveling and reenactment.
It was through our love for reenacting that Dogs for Defense really came to be. For those who are unfamiliar with the hobby, reenactment refers to recreating a specific period in time – for example, World War II – by dressing in period clothing, camping out with period equipment, and teaching the public about that time in history.
Soon after we began bringing Abby to reenactments, we realized that there was a great deal of interest from other reenactors and the general public about the use, training, and handling of military working dogs in the historic setting, and we started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a display specifically about the history of military working dogs?” This helped us shift our focus in reenactment toward preserving and presenting the history of the dogs that have helped our armed forces keep this country safe.
While living in southern Virginia, we were members of the Virginia Military Preservation Association (VMPA), an organization that serves as an umbrella group for military vehicle collectors and reenactment groups in the state of Virginia. Although the organization often registered for events as VMPA, individual member groups would register and set up displays under their own group names. We decided that we needed to come up with a designation for our military working dog display if we wanted to take the next step. We chose to call ourselves Dogs for Defense K-9, after the World War II civilian organization that helped procure dogs for the military. (That group’s actual name is Dogs for Defense.)
Our military working dog display now spans as many as three large tables and includes the history of military working dogs, military therapy dogs, and dog mascots in the armed forces. It spans the period from World War II, which was the earliest war in which the United States had a war dog program, to modern day, with a special mention to the mascots of World War I and the war dogs of other nations who influenced the American war dog program in the Second World War. The display consists of both display boards with photos and text, as well as equipment for the care and training of working dogs, and a large assortment of books, magazines, and manuals related to these dogs. (You can see scans of many of these books on our resources page.)
The logo for Dogs for Defense K-9, just as the name itself, is based on the logo of the World War II organization which procured dogs for the then-new military working dog program. That organization’s original logo, seen on the right in the graphic below, featured a circle with the text “Dogs for Defense” and a soldier with his German Shepherd working dog. We wanted to keep this same basic concept for our own logo while not actually copying the logo itself.
The circle surrounding our own logo design is based on the design of Scottish clan crests, which was chosen because our last name is of Scottish origin. In Scottish clan badges, the strap and buckle signifies membership in or allegiance to a clan. However, people have been telling us that the strap and buckle reminds them of a dog collar, which is more than fitting also.
In the center of our crest stand a man and his working Malinois. Unlike the World War II Dogs for Defense logo, ours does not obviously depict a soldier, although the man in the logo is wearing military-style clothing. This was a conscious choice to represent both our history and reenactment work, as well as general dog training, rather than specifically representing only one of the two. Our handler is holding a tug toy with which to reward his dog because motivational training is something we feel strongly about.
Our logo features the text Dogs for Defense K-9, as well as our mission statement – “education, history, training” – in the circle surrounding the dog and handler, and a separate motto, “in cane speramus,” on a scroll beneath. Our motto is Latin and translates to “In Dog we Trust,” which is a motto often adopted by dog handlers and working do groups or units.