Military working dogs

Junior Miss Rabbit Fest Kaydence Weary snaps a photo with Max, a military working dog, and his handler, Pfc. Raven Vignati and Sgt. Kendell Rivera, both with the 720th Military Police Battalion on Fort Hood. Weary collected thousands of dollars of dog supplies, which she donated to the unit.

Courtesy Photo

Kaydence Weary probably weighs less than 60-pounds. But she pitched 25- and 40-pound sacks of dog food to the back of a pick-up truck bed like they were as light as feathers.

The petite 9 year old is on a mission and it is obvious that nothing is going to stop her. Her goal is to help animals in need, and this time her support is for the military working dogs of Fort Hood.

The 3rd grader at Williams/Ledger Elementary School in Copperas Cove is the reigning Junior Miss Rabbit Fest and her platform of service during her year-long reign is helping abandoned animals. After hosting the Howl-O-Ween Dog Walk and Costume Contest in October and raising more than $6,000 in donations of cash, supplies and grooming services for the Copperas Cove Animal Control Facility, the gifted education student wanted to do more.

Her grandmother, Dawn Hale, saw a posting on Facebook from Sgt. Kendell Rivera, who is stationed in Afghanistan but is actually with the Army band. She was asking for donations for military working dogs stationed in combat zones.

The request was for items that were specifically not issued by the U.S. Army and could not be purchased locally. Items included rough play toys, dog treats, bathing products and items that help keep the dogs calm when boarding the helicopters.

“When my grandma told me about helping these dogs, I knew I had to do it, because no dogs should have to be scared and they need to have some time when they are not working all the time and can have some fun,” Weary said.

Coming from a military family, Weary’s grandmother and grandfather are both retired military and Weary’s stepfather is active duty currently stationed in Korea.

Partnering with Wal-Mart of Copperas Cove, Weary enlisted the help of her fellow titleholders and they manned both entrances of the popular retail store, ultimately filling up five carts with supplies until they were overflowing and collecting more than $1,200 in cash, which was used to purchase the supplies specifically on Rivera’s wish list.

Weary and her grandfather, John Hale, donated all of the items to the 720th Military Police Battalion, which performed a public demonstration of how dogs search for — and alert on — improvised explosive devices at Weary’s dog walk event.

Rivera was overwhelmed by the donation from the junior beauty queen.

“I can’t believe how much she was able to get,” Rivera said. “This just proves that anyone can make a difference if they are committed.

“These dogs go out every day risking their own lives, just like we do. They are the first ones to go out there. If there are explosives, it is the dog to go in first,” she said. “That is the way it works. They risk their lives, too.”

Rivera said she received donations from across the United States and even Australia and Canada. Max, a German Shephard who works as a patrol explosives detective dog, laid nearby chewing on one of the new toys Weary had given him. His handler, Pfc. Raven Vignati, smiled as she watched him.

“This is amazing. The dogs are going to love this stuff. To have the community to come together and do this ... we are super grateful,” Vignati said.

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