In early 2013, when Life Cycle Pet Cremation was still under development, a wise friend who had retired from the military suggested that we offer complimentary cremation for military dogs. It was a great idea that we expanded on, as noted on our Discounts web page:
Military Dogs: Any dog who served in one of the following organizations is eligible for a complimentary private cremation with full after-care package. Proof of service required.
- U.S. armed forces (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard)
- U.S. Border Patrol
- Whatcom, Skagit or Island County police or sheriff department
Last month (June 2016) it was Life Cycle’s privilege to provide after-care for the first military dog to receive this benefit – Arras (pronounced “AIR-es”) Gillinger, a German Shepherd from Yelm, WA who was under the care of Bellingham Veterinary Hospital.
Lee Gillinger became Arras’ handler when Lee was assigned to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. Arras was an explosive detector dog, trained to sniff out any type of bomb or explosive. Lee was an MP and Arras’ third handler.
Military dogs, unlike human troops, are assigned to a specific base. When the handler is moved on to a different base, the dog stays and is re-assigned a new handler. However, handler/dog teams are sent on tours of duty overseas. In addition to their time together in Oklahoma, Lee and Arras were also stationed in Qatar.
Lee and Arras served together from January 2011 until Arras was retired due to hip dysplasia on May 31, 2013. Arras was only 6 years old, and Lee adopted him.
“Do you know the character ‘Ed’ from the movie The Lion King?” Lee asked me when I inquired about Arras’ personality. “Ed is the crazy hyena with the lazy eye. That was Arras! Arras was an E.D. – an explosives dog – who also had a lazy eye and was very playful.”
According to Lee, Arras loved to play with balls, Kongs, and water sprinklers. In the winter Arras especially loved to dive, head first, into deep snow banks. Lee said that Arras was also very stubborn. Unlike dogs who were trained for obedience, Arras might be given the command to “sit,” and would look at Lee and think about it.
Arras was only 9.5 years old when a veterinarian in Yelm, WA diagnosed him with probable cancer.
Military dogs receive no financial benefits post-retirement, and Lee and his wife couldn’t afford treatment for Arras. However, Lee had kept in touch with Arras’ veterinarian at Tinker AFB. Lee called the vet and she referred him to Gizmo’s Gift a non-profit located just outside of San Antonio in Converse, TX:
“Gizmo’s Gift was founded on 29 January 2014, after a push to get the military to reclassify Military Working Dogs (MWDs) from “excess equipment” to “K9 service Member of the Armed Forces” and to help get MWDs Medical Benefits after retirement. Gizmo’s Gift is a nonprofit organization that takes donations to help cover those medical costs after a MWD, CWD, and Police K9’s retire, so that tax dollars aren’t used. We also have an adoption program for those heroes who need help finding their forever home.”
Through Gizmo’s Gift Lee was introduced to the Perseus Foundation in Washington, D.C. and their MiliDog Fund.
“The MiliDog Fund is being created to fill an existing need to provide financial assistance for retired military working dogs. These elite warriors are expected to work in the most austere of environments and face conditions that most human beings cannot survive. The K-9 units are vital in ensuring the success of every mission and operate in all conditions. Our mission is to ensure that every single elite warrior has a chance in the fight against cancer.”
The Perseus Foundation offered to pay for Arras’ treatment and recommended that Lee contact Bellingham Veterinary Hospital for treatment. Arras appeared to be recovering well after a softball-sized tumor was removed from his chest. However, Arras died while in Bellingham from a probable pulmonary embolism.
The amazing element of Arras’ story, aside from the love he shared with his human parents, is that a variety of people and organizations from all of the country – Yelm, WA; Oklahoma City, OK; Converse, TX; Washington, D.C. – stepped in to help.