Military K9


Fluffy... The Commando Dog

"This has never been done before...taking a dog from your enemies and making him work for you. Fluffy was not a rescue; he was a sentry dog."
~Russell Joyce

An Unikely Military K9

Fluffy the War Dog

They met in Northern Iraq in 2003. Special Forces soldier, Russell Joyce, and his unit had a dog in Afghanistan to ward off intruders. They were now seeking one in Iraq.

They asked local Kurdish soldiers to find them a dog. The Kurds returned with a full breed German Shepherd.

Estimated at no more than 2 years of age, but at just 31 pounds, the dog was painfully malnourished.

The scars on his head and legs reflected signs of abuse. And he was missing his 2 bottom teeth. Visibly shaken, he spent his first night with the soldiers cowering in the corner.

"The dog was previously in the care of the Iraqis. He had been beaten, and we could see the obvious scars over his face and legs."

The soldiers did not feel he would make a suitable military k9 guard dog, but Joyce wanted to give him a chance. He fed the dog from his own rations and using positive reinforcement, taught him basic commands, eventually training him as a sentry dog.

They decided that their military k9 shepherd, named Tera Kazez, definitely needed a new name. In brainstorming machismo names, Joyce jokingly suggested "Fluffy." As soon as he said it, the dog looked at him in acknowledgement. The decision had been made.

Fluffy, the Sentry Dog

Within two weeks Fluffy was working as a trained military k9 sentry dog and became aggressive towards outsiders. He chased a Kurdish soldier over a fence, tearing off his pants.

"What makes this dog so great is look at the irony. We took this dog from Iraq, we trained it, and we used it for our own security."

He bonded with the special forces unit and looked out for them. When any one of the soldiers walked patrol, he would walk right along with them, standing at their left side. Fluffy devotedly put his life on the line to guard the soldiers that rescued him from a miserable existence. To show his gratitude, he made himself invaluable.

"He's been in harm's way and shot at more times than anyone on my team," Joyce said.

Nearing their departure from Iraq, Joyce had Fluffy immunized and checked out by the Army vet. A law passed by Congress in 2000, HR5314, allows for the adoption of retired military working dogs of war to former handlers. But when it was time to leave, bureaucratic red tape prevented Fluffy from leaving the country.

Joyce scrambled to find temporary quarters for his military k9 Fluffy. His flight home was brutal knowing that he had only been given a window of 72 hours to save the life of his best buddy. Worried that Fluffy would be euthanized (or returned to the Iraqis) unless he could quickly find some way to bring him home, Joyce started an anxious email and phone campaign.

Operation Free Fluffy

His pleadings for help went viral. Within days, Joyce had received over 1,500 e-mails. And more than 32 U.S. senators had contacted him to offer their help.

"The letters that I had sent to three people somehow got on cyberspace and were sent to thousands!" Joyce said. "I never thought I would wake a sleeping giant - the Vietnam dog handlers!"

His message struck a chord with the Vietnam dog handlers. Powerless to bring home their four-legged comrades, they mobilized to save Fluffy.

Soon, phones were ringing in the offices of Senators, the Pentagon and the White House.

Among those who received the memo was U.S. War Dogs Association President, and former Vietnam dog handler, Ron Aiello.

Aiello walked "point" on patrol with his beloved Stormy in Vietnam. Although the devoted canine saved his life countless times, he was forced to leave the dog behind. He felt he owed it to Stormy to help Fluffy get out of Iraq.

"What I heard in his voice was something I had heard hundreds of times from former military handlers from the Vietnam era who talk about their canines to this day and the love and devotion we have for them," Aiello said. "Russell had that same emotion about Fluffy."

Leaving Iraq an Honorary Military K9

When Joyce called Fluffy's caretakers in Iraq to advise them that the wheels were in motion, he discovered that the Pentagon had already contacted the squadron to ask about Fluffy. The squadron was ordered to take care of Fluffy and ignore the original 72 hour deadline.

In order to allow his transfer, Fluffy was designated an honorary working military dog with honorary war dog status. When all was said and done, it took the approval of nearly 30 people in the military hierarchy.

Fluffy the War Dog ReunitedAlthough Joyce said he would pay for Fluffy's transportation costs, the Army footed the bill for the flight.

Three weeks later, Fluffy was sent to the US where he was reunited with Joyce, pulling the soldier that escorted him across the tarmac to his beloved handler.

Fluffy won over and became part of Joyce's family.

"I don't label him as a pet," he said. "I label him as a buddy."

Sadly, Fluffy passed on October 16, 2008. But, not before he became a living memorial for Vietnam K9 Handlers and Vietnam war dogs. After serving his adopted country and protecting its soldiers, he received a hero's welcome and a dignified retirement with a loving family.

"Bringing Fluffy to the States isn't about me. It's about the men who weep on the phone while they talk about the relationship they had with the dogs who served with them in war."

Fluffy's StoryMilitary K9 Tribute to Fluffy and the Joyce Family

A children's book about Fluffy was written by the Joyce family, with half of the proceeds to benefit the US War Dog Association.

Read Fluffy's Story: Part 1: Fluffy's Journey: Based on a True Story.

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