FORT HOOD — During his time on active duty, Tigris patrolled for explosives in Afghanistan with special forces soldiers and assisted the Secret Service in Dallas.
Now, the 5-year-old retired German shepherd spends his days playing Frisbee with his former handler and new owner, Sgt. Hailey Shappard.
“I want to give him a good life because he’s been working for the Army for five years,” said Shappard, a military working dog handler with the 226th Military Police Detachment, 89th Military Police Brigade.
“I still do the basic stuff with him at home so he doesn’t lose discipline. ... Most of the time we just play,” she told the Killeen Daily Herald.
Shappard joined Fort Hood’s kennels two years ago, and Tigris was the third dog she worked with. The two spent a year working together as a certified explosives detection team.
“It was an instant bond,” the sergeant said. “It just felt right. The other dogs I liked ... but when I got to Tigris and started working with him, I knew. We had this connection.”
Shappard said she was going through some tough times when the two paired up. She was coming to terms with having to leave the service soon for medical reasons, and Tigris was there for her.
“When I was having a bad day, I would go to the kennels and sit with him,” she said.
After one year working together, Tigris began to show signs of pain in his hips. After a visit to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where all military working dogs are trained, Shappard learned Tigris too needed to be medically retired from the Army.
After conducting a small retirement celebration within the detachment, Shappard officially adopted Tigris in April and took him home on her 25th birthday. The two went straight to the pet store, where she let him pick out toys.
Now, Shappard is training to certify with a new working dog, Cindy.
Sgt. Calvin Aguilar, also in the police detachment, adopted his former working dog, Mico, six months ago.
“That dog has not stopped smiling since he got home,” Aguilar said. “He’s figuring out what he can get away with and what he can do. He’s just a silly little guy.”
Also a patrol explosives dog, Mico was the first dog Aguilar took downrange. Working together, Aguilar said they had a strong bond and the dog could sense from him what was needed.
“I always had my eyes on Mico. The moment I had to say goodbye to him first time around, I said, ‘Anytime he gets retired for any reason, he’s coming home with me,’” he said.
The 6-year-old German shepherd was retired in Germany after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The nonprofit Mission K9 Rescue helped Aguilar fly Mico back to the states for adoption.
“He’s pretty much a regular dog, but during thunderstorms I need to be around him because he’s scared out of his mind,” Aguilar said.
Mico was never very outdoorsy, said Aguilar, so the soldier tries to get the dog outside as much as possible to keep him active and in shape.
“I’m getting him to branch out some more,” he said. “He is my child in my view.”
Shappard said Tigris is also still adjusting to retirement. When he enters a new space, Shappard said Tigris often begins sniffing the area, as if searching.
“I wouldn’t say he’s relaxed, but he’s happy because he’s spoiled,” she said.
Because of the training the dogs receive, Tigris also has an extreme fixation on toys. Shappard has to keep them put away until play time so he doesn’t obsess.
“The minute I get home it’s like, ‘Toy, toy, toy,’” she said with laugh.
Both soldiers encourage anyone willing to take on a retired working dog to do so. Tigris does require daily medication, which can be expensive, Shappard said.
“Every dog is different and they all have character,” Shappard said.