PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)
The strength of a working relationship can grow exponentially when, at the office, a co-worker jumps all around his cage recklessly wagging his tail, ready to cover faces with big, fat, slobbery kisses.
That is the reality for a military working dog handler in the 21st Security Forces Squadron.
Senior Airman Tariq Russell and his dog, Ppaul, rely on the relationship they developed with each other to create a safe working environment while protecting Airmen at Peterson Air Force Base.
Thanks partly to his father, Russell’s love for dogs began when he was a young boy growing up in Southern California.
“Since I can remember, my father has been breeding dogs,” Russell said. “We had around 20 dogs in my backyard at any given time and because of that upbringing – that’s what interested me most about being a military working dog handler and working with these dogs.”
Conversely, Russell pointed out that his passion for dogs had some growing to do in the beginning.
“The first dog that I had growing up was a Rottweiler,” Russell said. “I was absolutely terrified of it at first. However, once I got more exposed to dogs and became more accustomed to them, that’s when my fascination took off and it was just a whole other experience from then on.”
Fast forward to February 2016 and Russell is now a graduate of canine school and a fully certified MWD handler. He was ecstatic to learn about the dog that would accompany him during every working hour from here on out, he said.
“When I asked about when I was going to get my dog, I was told by my flight chief that the dog I would be assigned to was super independent and tough,” Russell said. “He likes to boss people around and wants to be in charge. They said it was going to be a while.”
Russell said he knew from the moment he met Ppaul, his MWD, he was in for a challenge.
“He had a stigma about him,” Russell said. “He was aggressive and would bite you if you tried to correct him. He wasn’t very handler friendly when I first got him.”
After many bites, hours of training and hundreds of corrections, Ppaul began to show signs of growth. The bond was there, and it was only a matter of time before it became unbreakable, he said. Russell knew there was only one more test before he knew he had the trust of Ppaul.
“I was told that he didn’t like to be picked up,” Russell said. “I promised myself never to do it because I was told he would bite your face if you tried. I don’t know why, but one day I thought to myself ‘I’m going to try it,’ so I picked him up. To my surprise, he had no reaction and responded very well. From that day, I knew we would make an amazing MWD team.”
Since that day, the working relationship between Russell and Ppaul has been so stellar it was noticed by Russell’s trainers and leadership team.
“I’ve been told a few different times that Ppaul and I work extremely well together and that we are a great fit,” Russell said. “There’s an unbelievable feeling that comes over me when I hear that. I just think back to the day when I was told he was going to be a hard dog to work with and knowing firsthand how much we have grown together – I feel lucky.”
Sadly, Russell is scheduled to leave for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, this fall and will have to say goodbye to Ppaul. Russell said he is already dreading leaving Ppaul behind, but he is doing his best to make sure his buddy won’t be without companionship.
“I don’t want him sitting in his kennel for days or weeks without anything to do,” Russell said. “That’s why I have been already asking my supervisors if we have a handler for him when I leave. I know he will be in good hands though. I’m just going to miss him a lot.”