by James Thalman
For the Davis Clipper
FRUIT HEIGHTS—The Crismers have always had a soft spot for dogs. The retired Fruit Heights couple by way of Baltimore can’t remember not having one or two or four.
Linda Crismer has had a thing for pups, both four-legged and the thousands of youngsters who had the good luck to learn about Utah history in her fourthgrade class at Bountiful Elementary.
“I loved teaching and tried to make it fun to learn,” she told the Clipper on a recent afternoon. “I’ve always loved teaching those 9- and 10-year-olds about their state and wider world around them.”
She is regularly recognized by adults in her travels around Davis County who can’t resist interrupting her when she runs errands with her husband, Jim, with a stop and chat. They readily say how much her gentle tending and guiding hand got them into living their own personal history in life.
“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” Jim Crismer says, his wife seated nearby on the sofa in their plush and memorabilia-festooned living room. “We both love to do what we can to give back to the community here that so freely accepted us and continue to do all they can to make us feel welcome.”
The couple makes everyone feel welcome, and has been sharing their good fortune with a life-illiterate German shepherd named Mazzie. He is a retired war dog – K-9s that have done their duty but face an uncertain post-service life.
The Crismers officially adopted the dog and are proud to call themselves not just Mazzie’s teachers but his “parents.”
The 6-year-old was a highly trained war dog for five and half years in the war-torn Middle East. Mazzie was what is called “a sniffer” dog. He was in the service of a private sector K-9 corps contracted with the U.S. military.
Linda Crismer points out that in the Middle East, the dogs face far more formidable enemies than they ever have faced before.
The climate is vicious, the terrain is rugged, she says. “Mazzie’s pads on his paws are smooth and soft, which means he has walked across a lot of extremely hot sand.”
It doesn’t matter to the Crismers what exactly Mazzie saw or did, Mazzi’es over-wary disposition was a perfect place for him to find a home in the pastoral, gentle rolling foothills along the Wasatch Front.
“He was so skittish when we got him that he wouldn’t even come out of his kennel,” Jim points out. “I had to drag him kindly and gently out by his front legs, but he would just turn around and go back in.”
In the Crismer’s care, Mazzie is learning how to be man’s best friend again. The most shocking trait of Mazzie’s disposition was that he had never learned, or perhaps forgot, how to play.
“We would take him in the backyard with Ruger (the couple’s aging Golden Retriever) to play,” Jim recalls. “I would throw a ball for them to chase, and Mazzie would just stay put. No matter how we coaxed and how cheerfully we talked to him, he just turned the idea down. It was like he looked at us and thought, ‘What the heck are these nutty humans doing now?’”
What humans are doing these days, and with Mazzie’s full engagement, is making him famous. He’s been on public display and warmly welcomed wherever he goes. He can be seen standing in for the K-9 corps and riding floats in patriotic parades and war memorial ceremonies, and often at the local grocery stores.
The Crismers say they shudder to think of what Mazzie’s fate would have been had they not stepped in. He would have likely been turned over to a local family or simply put down after being in the field starting at six months old.
“These dogs have served our troops in the most dangerous work in war,” Linda says, slightly shaking her head. “And many are just turned loose.”
The Crismers can’t save every service dog, but you get the sense they would if they could.
Military Working Dogs have been used by the U.S. Military since World War I. American families donated their dogs to the military to aid troops during wartime.
Today in Afghanistan there are approximately 700 Military Service Dogs fighting with and protecting our troops. They do everything from guarding posts and facilities to tracking the enemy to bomb detection and combat defense.
“We’re finally getting him to understand, or at least not be frightened of his surroundings and being in outdoors where there are mountains, not sand dunes,” Linda says, her patriotism and pride showing.
“Having him has been a little tough, I have to say,” Jim adds. “As they told us when we picked him up, ‘You are not his handlers, you are his parents now.’”
He still has a few behavior lapses, such as how visitors are greeted at the front door. One of his parents needs to be on hand to damp down his rather vigorous announcing bark, or his instincts might suddenly overwhelm his manners.
“But he’s learning more every day,” Jim says as a visitor makes his way to front door. “But we’re teaching him how to be with regular folks. It’s all just getting used to how to be in a new life. We’ve all had to learn that a few times in life.”
To find out more about dogs like Mazzie and how to adopt war dogs, visit uswardogs.org/k9-care/.