Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 30, 2014

Nonprofit supports both sides of the leash

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Allison Merrill grew up around dogs, particularly German shepherds.

Now she cares for a small army of the breed, including two fosters dogs, three of her own and hundreds of military working dogs overseas.

Merrill is a Michigan representative of the nonprofit Military Working Dog Team Support Association, a small group of volunteers around the country. Together they support military working dogs and their handlers — current and retired — through care packages, ballistic dog vests, donations to war dog memorials and efforts to bring home the remains of dogs killed in action.

Their slogan: “Sit, stay, support.”

An important part of the group’s work is sending quarterly theme care packages to 130 military dogs and their handlers in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and undisclosed locations, Merrill said. Former recipients include shepherds Posha, who earned the Navy Cross with his handler for actions in Afghanistan, and Lucca K458, who lost a leg to an improvised explosive device and now travels in support of wounded soldiers.

“There’s a lot of groups that send care packages to men and women but I wanted to go one step further and send it directly to the dogs,” said Merrill, owner of Sun Dog Boarding Kennel in Traverse City. “First-time dog handlers will get some basic items from the government but not much else. We like to send some comforts from home they really need and don’t have access to.”

April care packages with a “Gone Fishin” theme will include healthy fish dog treats, de-shedding tools and nail clippers, toy balls, and mud bath treatments. Handlers will get their own treats: Swedish Fish and neon Gummi Worms, Goldfish crackers and fishing magazines.

Merrill said the goal is to bring a bit of northern Michigan and the Great Lakes to the men and women who serve overseas with their four-legged partners.

Karry Barolo’s D.O.G. Bakery in Traverse City baked thousands of dog treats for previous care packages, including football-shaped treats from the bakery’s bacon-and-egg recipe in honor of the Super Bowl.

This time around the bakery will donate more than 500 fish-shaped treats from a Lake Michigan whitefish recipe, all decorated with white and blue yogurt topping.

“I just feel it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing and anything we can do to make life a little easier for these particular four-legged military personnel and their handlers, to bring a smile and wag of tail, I’m happy to do it,” Barolo said.

Merrill said she was inspired to volunteer with the group by one of her clients, a military dog handler during the Vietnam War who adopted a retired military dog named Rennie.

“Back in Vietnam, the dogs didn’t come home. They were left behind,” she said. “Now there’s more of a public push to recognize that the dogs are veterans, too, and not just equipment.”

The Military Working Dog Team Support Association needs donations of Kong classic or extreme balls and FURminator de-shedder tools and nail clippers for large, short-haired dogs, for its April care packages. Collection sites are D.O.G. Bakery, Bay Area Pet Hospital, Pets Naturally and Cherry Capital Subaru in Traverse City; Northern Michigan Veterinary Hospital in Acme; and Bowsers By The Bay in Elk Rapids. Cash donations also are needed to help pay postage of $15 a package. For more information, contact Merrill at or 231-392-9680, or visit