Supporting the U.S. troops has been the subject of much talk and many bumper stickers, but rarely does the conversation extend to the many canine troops that have been sent to the Middle East. This is where the Happy Tails Dog Spa in Vienna has been picking up the slack.
The dog spa recently sent holiday gift baskets to the dogs and their handlers in the eight units the spa has adopted since July. The baskets included various chew toys, bones, rawhides and tennis balls for the dogs, along with cookies and some other food for the handlers, said Joye Novellino, Happy Tails' general manager.
The gifts were purchased with some of the approximately $15,000 the spa has raised in the last six months and are just the latest in an ongoing series of shipments, said Jennifer Peacock, another Happy Tails employee.
A few weeks prior, said Novellino, the spa had sent out another shipment of cooling mats and "doggels" — goggles to protect the dogs' eyes from blowing sand. "We've been sending things over regularly," she said.
Alex Bowens, also of Happy Tails, said the whole effort began with modest plans and expectations. For the Fourth of July, she said, "we knew we wanted to do something kind of fun and patriotic that involved the dogs." The idea they came up with was a dog wash to raise money and other small donations for war dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It kind of just mushroomed from there," said Bowens.
The dog wash drew an unexpectedly large turnout and ended up raising more than $8,500, according to a Happy Tails press release.
It also drew CNN coverage, said Novellino. The next thing they knew, she said, "we had donations coming in from Canada, California, and pretty much the majority of the states."
SHE SAID THE donations included "a couple $1,000 checks," and a Mary Kay representative donated 1,300 tubes of ChapStick for the dogs' noses and 400 bottles of sunblock for the handlers.
The outpouring of support for the Happy Tails effort may result partly from the fact that it is one of few outlets for military canine support in the country.
"When I do research on it nothing ever really comes up," said Peacock, noting the exception of the U.S. War Dogs Association.
Since July, she said, donations have continued to roll in, although the spa has not held another fund-raiser. "Customers and word-of-mouth is really how we get donations," she said.
"We use the monetary donations to buy the larger-dollar items," said Novellino, adding that the smaller items are usually donated to the spa by individuals.
She estimated that they are currently outfitting 80 to 100 dogs.
Donations have slowed down a bit, she said, and there has been talk of another dog wash in early spring. "It was such a huge success, we would definitely want to do that again," she said.
Their efforts have also garnered a significant response from the troops in the form of thank-you letters and e-mails, said Novellino.
One Sgt. Mark S. Kirkland from ARCENT-KU explosive dog handlers in Kuwait posted his thanks on Yahoo!, writing, "The dogs have never had so much fun! It's hard getting them to work!"
Happy Tails has established an organization called K-9 Support Inc., for which they have been seeking — and expect soon to obtain — nonprofit status, said Novellino.
In the future, she said, as the number of dogs at war dwindles, K-9 Support may shift its focus to other service dogs, such as rescue and seeing eye dogs. But for now, she said, "we're pretty focused on the canines we're supporting over there."
She added, "There are always going to be military dogs stationed with various military units."
To make a donation, call 1-888-468-6022 or send to:
Happy Tails Dog Spa
8528-F Tyco Road
Tysons Corner, VA 22182