Building a bond like no other

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Malissa Lott
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Walking through the 366th Security Forces Squadron dog kennel, barking erupts from all directions. The smell of dog fur fills the nose of Staff Sgt. Benjamin Vanney as he makes his way to his new working dog, Rony. He smiles at the sight of Rony jumping around in excitement, ready for a new day of training.

Having only been together for a week, the two are still getting to know each other. Developing a bond between handlers and their dogs is vital to the success of the military working dog team.

A military working dog handler with the 366th SFS, Vanney has loved dogs since he was a child. Unfortunately, his parents seemed less enthusiastic about owning a pet.

"When I was a little kid, my parents wouldn't let us have a dog," Vanney said. "I created a presentation of why we needed one. I remember stating the facts and making all these promises."

He promised his parents he would take responsibility, even if it meant waking up in the middle of the night to care for the dog.

Shortly after returning from a vacation, his parents greeted him with strange behavior.

"I couldn't figure out why they were keeping me from going through the garage door. They followed me through the front door. There was a staircase leading all the way up and that's where my mom was with the puppy in her lap. I think I cried - I was so excited."

It was then Vanney knew dogs would serve an important role in his life. As a new airman, He didn't initially think about dog handling. But, once the opportunity arose, he jumped at it.

"It sounded like a calling," Vanney said.

His first puppy and basic training have long passed, but he still finds enjoyment training his new dog Rony.

"You try to build that bond, build a rapport and make a friendship out of it at first," said Vanney.

He remembers his first encounter with Rony. Rony initially hid from him, but couldn't mask his excitement when Vanney grabbed his leash.

"I could tell I had my hands full right off the bat," Vanney said.

For some, going in to work on their free time to take care of work would seem like an unnecessary sacrifice. For Vanney, though, it's not only a necessity, it's an opportunity. It's a chance to bond with his dog and allow Rony to completely trust him.

"I'm constantly coming in on my off-time," Vanney said. "When I go fishing on my days off, I stop by and play with Rony for an hour or two. The biggest thing is the passion for it, because it's a lot of hard work."

The patience, care and time he provides for Rony is a testament to the bond handlers share with their dogs. It's a bond that keeps each other going during difficult times, especially deployments.

"When you have the opportunity to deploy downrange with a military working dog, they're your link to home," said Master Sgt. Christopher Ebeling, 366th SFS military working dog section NCO in charge. "Your dog stays with you in your room or you stay in the compound with your dog. You have access 24/7 to your dog. It's a great stress-reliever that makes being away from home so much easier."

"You have this animal that you're caring for so it takes your mind off of being away from home," said Vanney. "At the same time, they relax you and cheer you up."

Despite creating an incredible bond there will be a time when this bond has to be severed. And all handlers will have to experience this, whether due to personnel changes or mission needs. Before working with Rony, Vanney was teamed with another dog named Vvass.

"It's hard," said Vanney. "Especially when you're seeing [the dog] go to another person. I've walked past Vvass' kennel every day and it isn't exactly the easiest because he sees me and he whines; I miss him."

Even though the process of moving on to another dog is difficult, the experiences stay with him as he works with Rony. Still, despite the challenges, he wouldn't want to change a thing. Experiencing these changes has continued to push Vanney to be better for each of his dogs

"I will always remember my dogs as I continue my career," Vanney said.