As a small business, giving back is what often makes us smile at the end of a long day. With so many incredible people and organizations out there, choosing how to give back in the most effective way can sometimes be the toughest part of our jobs. But when we came across the Military Working Dog Team Support Association (MWDTSA), we knew we’d found a long term partner. Since 2006, MWDTSA has been sending care packages to dogs and their handlers who are deployed for active military duty. As a 100% volunteer organization, MWDTSA puts more than 98% of all donations, grants and other fundraising directly into their care packages (the other 1.7% pays admin/bank/government fees). Here at Rex Specs, we recently ran a promotion offering our dog goggles at a price of $45 for anyone to purchase on behalf of MWDTSA. Our sales totaled 61 pairs of goggles that will be shipped to the association next week to be included in care packages.
Formed in 2006 by Dixie Whitman and retired Army LTC Ken Besecker (a Combat Tracker Platoon commander in the Vietnam War), Dixie had heard from many Vietnam era handlers that they didn’t get a very warm welcome when they came home. “It was important for these Vietnam handlers to show the current handlers that someone cares,” said current MWDTSA President, Nikki Rohrig. “We wanted to show them a very high level of support and wanted to let this generation of dog handlers know that somebody at home has their back.”
Retired Army COL Dick Baumer is the First Vice President of the MWDTSA. He helped train more than 300 Scout Dogs and handlers in 1968 before deploying to Vietnam himself, to the same Combat Tracker Platoon Besecker later commanded. While the military provides meals and medical care for the dogs, most of the time the handlers don’t have access to supplies while out in the field (the medical care and food is located on bases). In addition, MWDTSA works to boost morale during deployments through their care packages. “Our main theme is that we support both ends of the leash,” said Baumer. “So we send health and comfort items to the handlers like beef jerky and coffee. From the dog side, we send things like digital thermometers for example so a handler in a really hot environment can take the dog’s temperature and see if the dog is under stress or needs to be pulled out.” With toys being the biggest reward for most dogs in the field, they can get destroyed pretty quick, so that’s another item MWDTSA puts in the mix -- but not before testing all potential new toys prior to mailing them out. “All the toys we send out have to pass the Toy Council first,” Baumer said. “That Toy Council is five retired military dogs. Some of the toys don’t last longer than 15 minutes.” Baumer said any toy that’s sent into the field has to last at least a full day with the Toy Council.
With a volunteer team of about 40 people scattered across more than 20 states, MWDTSA has sent more than 4,200 care packages in the past ten years, impacting close to 11,000 handlers and K-9s. “In many cases, we also send additional boxes throughout the year to support an entire kennel overseas,” Baumer said. “For example, about six months ago we were asked for disinfectant and brushes for a newly opened kennel in Iraq during the initial support of the push to retake areas from ISIS.”
It’s not cheap to send anything overseas -- the 708 care packages they sent in 2016 cost more than $12,000 in postage alone. According to Baumer, they couldn’t do what they do if they didn’t get most of the care package products donated from large companies or through reduced sale prices.
The reward for Dick and Nikki after a long day is hearing back from their teams or seeing the organization come full circle -- many of the handlers they support in the field later become volunteers of MWDTSA. So the next time you’re scratching your head on who to donate to, consider sending some cash to MWDTSA -- or maybe even joining their volunteer squad. The pictures alone are worth it!