Deep-rooted bond

Viet­nam War vet­eran Austin Ma­clin says work­ing with dogs has con­tin­u­ously brought joy to his life

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANCELENE MACKIN­NON

Viet­nam War vet­eran Austin Ma­clin says work­ing with dogs has con­tin­u­ously brought joy to his life.

Austin Ma­clin has had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with dogs since Sam saved his life.

He was pa­trolling an air base with his war dog, Sam, at his side, when sud­denly, the Ger­man shep­herd froze in his tracks.

“There was a booby trap,” said the Viet­nam War vet­eran, who has called Lower Darn­ley home for the past 16 years.

“He heard the wind blow­ing over the wire. I touched it with my bay­o­net, and there’s a notch burnt out of it be­cause it was elec­tri­fied. It would have cooked me, but Sammy Bear heard the wind.”

Grow­ing up in New Jersey, Ma­clin was 17 when he opted to join the ser­vice.

“I went to Lack­land Air Force Base. They were look­ing for vol­un­teers to be ca­nine han­dlers. I said, ‘I would love to han­dle a dog’,” he re­called as he mim­icked the way his hand shot up. “I had the best job in the world.”

His and Sam’s job was to keep peo­ple alive, and they did it well, he said.

Af­ter his time in the war came to an end, sol­diers were in­structed to leave their dogs in Viet­nam, but Ma­clin had other plans.

“There was no way on God’s green earth I was go­ing to leave my dog. I had a cousin who was an air force pi­lot fly­ing C-141s. He said, ‘Ken­nel him up. We’ll get him out.’”

The pair made it suc­cess­fully to the United States and stayed to­gether un­til Ma­clin’s re­tire­ment from the air force in 1968, when Sam was given to an­other han­dler.

Ma­clin found out just how ap­pre­cia­tive peo­ple were of his and Sam’s ser­vice when, this past sum­mer, he was at the VA Hos­pi­tal in Bos­ton re­ceiv­ing ra­di­a­tion for can­cer, be­lieved to be a re­sult of ex­po­sure to Agent Or­ange dur­ing the war.

“Guys would come up to me, thank me and say, ‘I don’t know how you guys would walk a dog all night in the dark with no one around you but your dog, but I’m alive be­cause you guys did that.’”

He went through nu­mer­ous ses­sions of ra­di­a­tion each day that left him feel­ing drained. How­ever, Ma­clin found so­lace and a re­newed en­ergy by vol­un­teer­ing at the An­gell Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal, the largest an­i­mal hos­pi­tal in the world.

Ma­clin made the 100-yard walk to spend time with the an- imals.

“I was the greeter there for the en­tire sum­mer. It was per­fect for me, and men­tally it worked won­ders.

“I needed to be around the an­i­mals. When peo­ple came through, I would calm the an­i­mal down and calm them down.”

He also en­dured a heart at­tack, a stroke and seizures as a re­sult of be­ing ex­posed to the Agent Or­ange her­bi­cide in the 1960s.

But his re­sponse as to how he feels about those ex­pe­ri­ences?

“It’s life. We knew it was killing all fo­liage around us. None of us knew what Agent Or­ange was do­ing to us.”

To­day, sit­ting at the ta­ble in his P.E.I. home, wear­ing his Viet­nam Dog Han­dler hat, Ma­clin smiles as his Ger­man shep­herd puppy lies obe­di­ently at his feet. Pho­tos of his grand­chil­dren, as well as of him and Sam cover the wall be­hind him.

“Look at this,” he says, ges­tur­ing to a sleep­ing Myaha. “You’re such a good baby, aren’t you, honey?’”

He and his wife of 46 years, Ch­eryl, who is orig­i­nally from the Is­land, have lived here for the past 16 years.

Ma­clin said dogs have con­tin­u­ously brought joy and heal­ing to his life.

“A dog’s whole pur­pose in life is to make you happy. Don’t ever miss an op­por­tu­nity to tell that an­i­mal how much you love them.”

ANCELENE MACKIN­NON/TC ME­DIA

Viet­nam War vet­eran Austin Ma­clin gives his Ger­man shep­herd Myaha a kiss at his home in Lower Darn­ley. Ma­clin was a ca­nine han­dler dur­ing the war and re­cruited dogs for the ser­vice in his last year be­fore re­tir­ing in 1968.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Austin Ma­clin is shown with his war dog, Sam, dur­ing the Viet­nam War in 1966.

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