RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Military Working Dog Vvonya swapped a career of patrol, detection and defense to put her paws up and enjoy family and civilian life when she officially retired from duty Jan. 18, 2018, after nine years faithful service to Team Mildenhall and the U.S. Air Force.
Now aged 10 ½ -- or almost 74 in dog years – Vvonya, a Belgian Malinois, was the first and only female Puppy Program dog assigned to the 100th Security Forces Squadron. She joined the RAF Mildenhall pack in 2010.
Born and initially trained at Joint-Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, the canine defender spent her entire working life at RAF Mildenhall, and has been adopted by the current kennel master and one of her former handlers, Tech. Sgt. Kelly Webster, and his family.
At the ceremony in her honor, she officially traded her government-issued “DO NOT PET” collar and leash for a red “civilian/pet me all you want” collar as 100th SFS Military Working Dog handlers read two poems, “Guardians of the Night” and “The Creation of Man’s Best Friend.” Vvonya was then presented certificates by Lt. Col. Lawrence Wyatt, 100th Security Forces Squadron commander, including a Certificate of Appreciation signed by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright.
During her career in England, MWD Vvonya amassed 36,000 working hours – 22,000 of which were in explosive detection – and partnered with nine handlers. Her accomplishments include multiple missions in support of the president, first lady, vice president, secretary of state, and various allied foreign dignitaries throughout Europe.
“I’ve known Vvonya for more than four years now and have worked her for almost two of those years,” Webster said. “It’s important for my family and I to adopt her because she put her life on the line to protect me and everyone else both on base and during her TDYs, so I want to give her the best retirement life possible.
“It took a lot of training to understand what makes her work hard, but also to make sure I didn’t shut down her drive to work,” the kennel master remarked. “One of the things I loved about working with Vvonya is when she would find a training aid. I would throw her a reward and she would come running back to me with it, jumping on me in excitement – she weighs almost 70 pounds, but it was worth it just to see her so happy because she did an amazing job. She just wanted to work – whether it was bite work or detection, she was always ready to go.”
He added that when working, Vvonya had absolutely no fear.
“We were doing vehicle extraction training one time and the decoy got out of the vehicle and ran from her,” he recalled. “Usually, most dogs would go around the vehicle to get to the decoy, but not Vvonya – she jumped on and over the vehicle in order to take the shortest route possible. Her favorite thing has always been bite work, and she was amazing at it.”
MWD Vvonya retired on medical grounds.
“In her younger days, Vvonya was a brilliant patrol dog and was regularly the first choice as our demonstration dog,” said Debbie Black, 100th SFS Military Working Dogs kennel assistant. “She’s been a very fit, healthy dog during her nine years of military service, until age-related issues began to affect her last year. Despite her progressive health issues, she still has the desire to do patrol work and gets very excited when she hears the other dogs doing bite work in the training area.”
Black said the retired working dog couldn’t have found a better home.
“Vvonya has developed a very strong bond with Webster, and I think she actually chose him as the one she should spend the rest of her twilight days with,” Black remarked. “Handlers who were assigned to her after he partnered her had an almost impossible task to work her if he was around – she just wanted to be with him.
“Over the years she’s changed from being a tough, somewhat aggressive and unpredictable dog, to a very soft, cuddly girl, and her favorite place now is on the sofa with her head on someone’s lap,” she added.