CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Eris, a military working dog, recently retired after five years of service with the military police here, and will live out his retirement life with his former handler and his family.
The 7-year-old German shepherd had a demanding job and a storied career that included two deployments, and Pfc. Anthony Branham, who worked with Eris in Japan, said he was eager to let the dog “[enjoy] the rest of his life relaxing on the couch.”
“I wanted to get him out here [with us] as quickly as possible [after he retired],” said Branham, assigned to the 901st MP Detachment.
Military working dogs typically end their service when they are about 10 years old due to the demands of their job and the health problems that dogs often face at that age. German shepherds are particularly prone to back problems, Branham said.
After their retirement, military working dogs are sometimes placed in foster homes, given over to adoption centers, or sent to live in an open area such as a farm. But first priority of the dogs’ post-service care is given to their handlers because of the bond the two inevitably form through months of training and working together.
Branham did not hesitate with his decision to adopt Eris. He was at the dog’s side, encouraging him during many tough times, including when Eris was hospitalized with injuries. He was eager to welcome Eris into his home so that he could “live a relaxed retired life like other dogs,” he said.
Branham describes Eris as a sweet and loyal dog who gets along well with his family members, as well as their other dog. He says Eris excitedly greets him at the door every day when he comes home and follows him around the house.
Military working dogs, including many of those that serve at Camp Zama, are sometimes awarded for their service. Eris never received any such recognition during his career, but Branham says that doesn’t make his dog any less of the perfect partner he was to him when they worked together.
“To have a really good best friend like him, that has my back no matter what, it’s really beneficial for me,” Branham said.
While sitting for this interview, Branham paid constant attention to Eris to ensure he was comfortable and relaxed. He said he wants to make sure the dog, still new to retirement life, is able to move past his demanding former career and start living a carefree life as soon as possible.
“No more running around [and working],” Branham said. “He can lie here [with me] as long as he wants.”
Branham knows, however, that due to the intense regular training Eris and other military working dogs receive throughout their careers, they develop a keen sense of alertness and awareness of their surroundings that may not leave them so easily.
And of course, military working dogs are trained to learn many aggressive tactics due to the nature of their job. Eris, for example, is adept at chasing and subduing uncooperative or dangerous suspects if the need arises.
But Branham stressed that the canines are trained very well by their extremely dedicated handlers, and that when their mission is over, they go back to acting like any other dog.
“I think probably by December, he’ll finally be like, ‘OK, this is home. I’m safe,’” Branham said of Eris. “That’s one thing I really wanted to make sure he knew when I took him in — you are safe.”
[Editor’s note: This article was written by Yoshino Furuya, who worked in the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs Office as part of an annual four-week summer internship program for Japanese college students.]