By Janet McAfee
MAY 24, 2020 – On Memorial Day, my friend and fellow dog rescuer, Zach Skow, posted this plea on Facebook:
“This is Abel, he and his human Dad are American heroes, but they are about to be separated forever unless we get this post out there. Abel is part of a contract explosive detection team at the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is the best boy, along with his K9 handler, Richard Lee White Pickett, a US Marine Corps veteran. They have lived together in an 85 square foot room when not working in Kabul since the end of 2018. They are VERY bonded. Their K9 team position has been cut and they will return to the US in 9 days on May 28th. Rick is required to surrender Abel to an agent with AMK9. He will never see his best friend again.
They have raised funds (now over $30.000) to purchase Abel from AMK9 and Constellis (the parent company) but have received only silence as a response. Rick has been consistently requesting consideration from AMK9 and Constellis for months. They need your voice to get their story out there so they can stay together. Please help make their voices heard for this Marine and his K9. Our fighting men and women, along with their canine partners, sacrifice it all FOR US, and I believe we need to have Rick and Abel’s back in this.”
MAY 27, 2020 – Here are the words from US Marine veteran Richard Lee White Pickett:
“Abel and I have served our country and now that we’re no longer needed we’re being sent back. I’ll go home and make a new life for myself and Abel will go back to the kennel where he would normally wait for my return, but this time, I won’t. I’ll never get to see the excitement in his whole body when I walk through the kennel door after a disheartening month apart. Unless there is a change of heart…
I was assigned to Abel in October of 2018. He had been with the company for less than two months as indicated by his records and there was basically little more in the notes than that he knew how to sniff and pulled really hard. I was told by the trainer at one point that Abel pulled so hard that it injured the trainer and required a visit to medical. What I saw was that Abel had drive and I was going to make the most of it!
I was never told the exact protocols the company used to introduce Abel to odors but it is my perception, with several years of training and handling dogs, his proficiency seemed lacking. I only had a month to spend with him before we were to go to the certification test. I wanted Abel to learn how to trust me and interact with the world in an incredibly intimate, intense, and confident way in the least amount of time possible.
The first night with Abel, I immediately started a training regimen that was reward based, utilizing his food for marker/reward based training and several different types of toys for several different types of jobs. This taught Abel how to explore and interact with the world in a more curious and problem solving way. With so many different types of rewards for specific jobs, Abel never got bored and his drive was always high. Every behavior I asked of him was rewarded and instead of using a choke chain or other pain based pieces of equipment (which I have never used with Abel) waiting for the right behavior and using verbal markers were used to make it a driven decision to do things and not a compulsive one……At a basic level, a handler is taught how to read and recognize the body language of a dog to identify a change in behavior in the presence of explosive odor….
All I want is to constantly and progressively find my own boundaries and push them while being supported by a team of people who are just as, or more, driven and capable than I. Out on the front lines, what really matters is that what we’re doing is defending others from those who would attempt to kill or maim with explosives for a terrorist cause. All for the cost of a small amount of patience, a rubber ball, and a couple handfuls of kibble. I love my job, the people I’ve gotten to meet, and the things I’ve learned. But most of all, I love the dogs that sacrifice themselves, unwittingly, to support ideas larger than they could ever comprehend, yet perceive as nothing more than a fun game.”
MAY 29, 2020 – Instagram from Rick with a photo of an empty dog collar. I cried when I read this.
“Last night I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I handed over Abel to AMK9. I won’t pretend I didn’t fantasize about renting a car and disappearing with Abel for a meandering cross-country trip, just like in the movies, a couple of fugitives having one last adventure. But in the end, I fulfilled my contract in every way…right up to the point where I was required to rip my family apart.
As you can probably imagine, I am completely devastated. It’s Abel I keep thinking about though – he tried to run back to me during the hand-off and that nearly killed me….he doesn’t know what’s happening or why, only that the one person he’s relied on in his entire life is gone.
I flew back to Denver this morning. It’s good to be home. My plan is to give myself a couple days to deal with this pain before resuming the effort to open a dialogue with Constellis. There was a brief conversation during the handoff that has left me with a glimmer of hope. Apparently there have been some misunderstandings regarding my future plans with Abel (that I would use him to start my own competing security business). I will be formally requesting a proper meeting so that any incorrect assumptions, worries or misunderstandings can be corrected…The only security we plan to be providing is to each other, and signing a non-compete agreement would be completely acceptable to me.
Abel and I spent the last year living in a 85 sq/ft room sharing almost every second together. For those that truly care, the amount of connection and bonding that develops makes separation a truly painful one, even if it’s just for a period of leave. But to go to a combat zone where there were direct rocket attacks, suicide vest attacks, and vehicle borne explosive attacks to use a creature that I built and bonded with only to have a corporate entity say that this equipment isn’t for retirement, adoption, or even for sale for any amount of money adds to the distress that combat veterans like myself deal with on a daily basis.
With your support, it’s my goal to petition that would be undeniable for a company to decline. With your help, I hope to purchase Abel from the company so that he may become my service dog for disabilities that I have developed during my time in the Middle East.
Once again, I want to thank you for all the attention to our situation, the support (financial and emotional), and the never ending positivity. It’s meaningful to be surrounded by so many people that understand something as deep, but hard to quantify, as the bond between a man and his dog. Although Abel can’t possibly understand all that has gone on in his name and the support he’s received, I’m happy to thank all of you on his behalf!”
JUNE 2, 2020 – We are still waiting, hoping, and praying for a happy reunion. Rick and Abel are an extremely bonded pair, and truly belong together. You can still sign the petition to reunite them if you google BRING K9 ABEL HOME. You can email the contractor now in possession of Abel at firstname.lastname@example.org BUT PLEASE BE POLITE in asking them to reunite Rick and Abel. Please email and contact Veterans organizations, politicians, large animal welfare organizations, etc. Join Rick on Instagram at @rickw84 to show him some love and support, and learn how this story ends. Can we unite behind one Marine and his beloved dog at a time when the world begs for more happy endings?
WHERE TO ADOPT A RESCUE DOG OR CAT
Here is a partial list of public animal shelters and private rescue organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino County. Due to the high volume of adoptions during COVID-19, some may not have a lot of animals on a given day. You can also go on www.petfinder.com and enter your zip code and the type of rescue dog or cat you seek.
COACHELLA VALLEY ANIMAL CAMPUS – This large county shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. You can view the animals at all 4 Riverside county shelters at www.rcdas.org, and get the ID number of the animal you want to meet. Email them with the animal’s ID number at email@example.com and call (760) 343-3644. Located at 72050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms. (Public)
PALM SPRINGS ANIMAL SHELTER – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. They schedule appointments Wednesday through Monday, closed on Tuesday. View their animals online at www.psanimalsshelter.org, 4575 E. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs, (760) 416-5718. (Public)
ANIMAL SAMARITANS – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. View their animals at www.animalsamaritans.org. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to foster. Located at 72307 Ramon Rd, Thousand Palms, (760) 601-3918. (Private)
CALIFORNIA PAWS RESCUE – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Located at 73650 Dinah Shore, Palm Desert. View their animals at www.californiapawsrescue.com, (760) 656-8833. (Private)
HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE COACHELLA VALLEY – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt a dog or cat. View their animals at www.orphanpet.com. Located at 17825 N. Indian Canyon, Palm Springs, (760) 329-0203. (Private)
KITTYLAND – The shelter is closed so call for an appointment to adopt a cat. Located at 67600 18th Avenue, Desert Hot Springs, www.kittylandrescue.org, (760) 251-2700. (Private)
FOREVER MEOW – Foster based rescue for cats located in Rancho Mirage. Contact them through website www.ForeverMeow.org, or call (760) 335-6767. (Private)
LOVING ALL ANIMALS – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Located at 83496 Avenue 51, Coachella, www.lovingallanimals.org, (760) 834-7000. (Private)
MORONGO BASIN HUMANE SOCIETY – Located at 4646 Sun View Rd, Joshua Tree, www.mbhumanesociety.com, call between 11am-4pm for updates (760) 366-3786 (Private)
CITY OF SAN BERNARDINO ANIMAL SHELTER – Shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Hours for adoption 10am – 4pm Tuesday thru Sat. Google “City of San Bernardino Animal Shelter” for website to view animals and get the ID number of the animal you want to meet. Located at 333 Chandler Place, San Bernardino, (909) 384-1304 or (909) 384-7272. (Public)
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER AT DEVORE – Shelter closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Call (909) 386-9280 daily between 9am & 5pm. View animals at www.sbcounty.gov/acc and get the ID number of animal you want to meet. Located at 19777 Shelter Way, San Bernardino (Public).
DREAM TEAM ANGELS RESCUE – Foster based rescue located in Grand Terrace/San Bernardino area. Contact them through website www.DreamTeamangelsrescue.com, (360) 688-8884. (Private)