WASHINGTON – This Iraqi dog has come a long way since his Baghdad days.
Blek is an 11-year old black shepherd who is sharing his retirement with Alexandria resident Kenneth Gardner.
“It’s an incredible pleasure to be able to give this guy a decent retirement,” Gardner says.
Blek spent seven years in Iraq as a mine detection dog. He trained for two years in Texas and one year in Holland, Gardner says.
Blek was part of the Arlington-base Marshall Legacy Institute program that trains and sends dogs to war torn countries. He was taken out of Iraq by Baghdad Pups Program, which is part of SPCA International.
The specially trained canines sniff out the mines, which are then removed. Not only does it save lives, but it saves land, too. Mine-saturated areas are not free to be used to grow crops and mines even can impact a country’s economy.
A dog has never died from a landmine injury, according to the program.
Gardner says it took about five hours after meeting Blek for them to become best friends. That was five months ago.
“We’ve been tight ever since,” he says.
But there are still some things they need to work out.
“He feels at five o’clock in the morning, it’s time to go check the perimeter,” Gardner says. “He sticks his nose in my ear. Time to get up!”
Now Gardner is showing Blek some of the finer things in life.
“He’s finally learned the joys of a belly rub,” he says.
The two take walks every day through Ft. Ward Park in Alexandria. Gardner says Belk has a fan base that says hello every morning. And the kids adore him.