Four-legged friend steals the show at ESX 2013

Part of the ESA Celebration, formerly the Weinstock and Jackson Awards, is when the association announces a “giveback program,” where they encourage members to support a not-for-profit charitable organization. Last year’s was the Wounded Warrior and this year, the program, quite literally, went to the dogs. ESA announced that its new fundraising project at the show would be the Warrior Dog Foundation.

They repel, swim, jump out of planes, ride boats and help our military personnel on their missions, sometimes even donning thermal vision glasses. These are the dogs of the Warrior Dog Foundation—a place that raises and houses these Belgian Shepherds before they go into battle—and helps them after their days of service are over. These Special Operations Forces dogs are highly trained battlefield partners capable of detecting explosives, tracking insurgents, pursuing and apprehending attackers and thriving in conditions that would be unfavorable for humans.

The Warrior Dog Foundation was established by handler Mike Ritland, who fought as a Navy SEAL in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other deployments. He is also the founder of Trikos International, a company that provides private protection dogs to companies, individuals, as well as to the government, DOD and law enforcement. He created Warrior Dog Foundation with the sole purpose of giving back to the Navy SEAL and Special Operations community. Many may not know this but dogs are often deployed in the service to assist military operations in a variety of facets—in fact, the Operation that netted Osama bin Laden also included a “Warrior Dog.”

These Special Operations dogs go in often before personnel and sniff out hidden bombs and perform other types of work to prevent our servicemen from being killed, maimed or severely injured. The Warrior Dog Foundation was established not only to support the Special Forces Dogs who have been injured or retired from active duty, but also as a way of supporting the special operations community and their families. Dogs are typically placed for adoption, though some aren’t suited for family life because of injury or temperament issues. The foundation also works to educate the public about the importance of dogs and the role they play in battle.

“There is no environment you can’t bring a dog,” said Ritland, who spoke at the ESA Celebration with his canine companion Rico by his side glued to his every move. “The Warrior Dog Foundation looks after these dogs after their service, and in 2003 we realized firsthand that these dogs had a remarkable capacity to save lives. The camaraderie to have a dog overseas is hard to put into words. When these dogs are injured in combat, they are treated no different than us. The foundation is something that’s very important to me and I take great pride in our country for doing this. Ultimately, these dogs save lives,” he said.

Ritland said he started the Warrior Dog Foundation to give something back to the dogs and give them the lives they deserve after their service. “It’s truly humbling that the ESA would pick us to support our organization.”

Ritland and Rico were on the show floor signing copies of the book Ritland has written: “Trident K9 Warriors.” In fact, Rico gave guests who purchased the book a special treat—by biting the book! ESA members and attendees could make monetary contributions as small as $20 and receive a dog tag emblazoned with the Warrior Dog Foundation shield and could also make contributions of other amounts. ESA announced at the end of the show that it had raised some $14,000 for the foundation.