Linwood's Alison Cozzolino was looking for a way to pay a Veterans' Day tribute to her fiance, Air Force veteran Dominic Claps, that also incorporated her love of dogs.
The dog trainer and owner of All Creatures Great and Small Home Pet Care Services decided to collect gifts to send to military dogs and their handlers based in war zones, through the United States War Dogs Association, in Burlington, Burlington County.
She collected about 500 pounds of donations of dog treats, medicines, toys and items for the handlers in Operation K-9 Care, at about 10 collection sites around Atlantic County in November and December.
"My initial goal was to send 10 care packages," said Cozzolino, 47. "I was able to assemble 40, and have shipped 30."
She is still raising money for the $20 to $40 cost of sending each large box to military addresses, from which they are dispatched overseas. Most of the packages are going to Afghanistan, she said, where military dogs are mainly used in drug and explosive detection.
There are 600-700 of these canines in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, according to the U.S. War Dog Association. Their duties also include guarding posts and facilities, tracking the enemy, and combat defense.
Her campaign was such a success, Cozzolino is continuing to collect items at Arnold's Pets and Supplies in Northfield and Pet Pros in Somers Point.
Items particularly needed are eye drops, ear drops and pad ointment for dogs, who must work in a dry and harsh climates. They encounter conditions that irritates their paws and stings their eyes, the USWDA says.
The handlers will only use dog treats made in the U.S., as those made in Asian Pacific countries have been known to sicken war dogs, Cozzolino said. Also, the dogs are fed a specialized diet, so no dog food is requested. And no pork items can be sent, as the dogs are living in Muslim areas.
Cozzolino said the military issues some of the items requested by dogs and handlers, like flea and tick medicines, but when they run out it can be a complex process to get more. Then there are things from home they can't get, particularly snack items for handlers.
"I designed the boxes to have a New Jersey theme," she said. Johnson's Popcorn donated its product, and she also added salt water taffy and other shore items, "so it didn't just turn out to be a box of stuff."
The first official U.S. War Dog Memorial is in Holmdel, Monmouth County, so she took a photo of her three working dogs at the memorial to send to the handlers with the packages.
Cozzolino has two Dalmations, which help local fire departments with fire safety lessons in schools.
"I trained them to stop, drop and roll; and to crawl low across the floor, and touch a paw to a door, like kids are taught to do to feel for heat," Cozzolino said. They also act as mascots on fire trucks. Fifteen-year-old Daytona, whom she adopted from a shelter about a dozen years ago, was inducted into the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Hall of Fame in 2003 for her work with fire departments, Cozzolino said.
Another dog, a Doberman, helps her teach a pet CPR class through the American Red Cross, Cozzolino said.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
Drop off donations for Operation US Military K9 Care at Arnold's Pets and Supplies, 1000 Tilton Road, Northfield; or Pet Pros Pet Store, 112 Woodland Ave. # 4, Somers Point. To make tax-deductible contributions, make checks payable to the U.S. War Dog Association, and send c/o Alison Cozzolino, 18 Frances Ave. Linwood, 08221. For more information contact Cozzolino at 609-226-6356. For more on the USWDA visit uswardogs.org/.