ARTHUR IS KING - Photographer faces off with attack dog

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
  • Torch Magazine
Arthur had a reputation for having a few screws loose. But I must have been crazier than him, because I taunted him into a tussle. I should have known better; Arthur also is known for having a short fuse. As he unleashed his fury upon me like a 300-pound defensive lineman blindsiding a helpless quarterback, I began to crumble to the ground and thought, "What did I get myself into?"

As my head bounced off the ground like a basketball, one thought penetrated the haze with crystal clarity: "I didn't get myself into this; my evil editor did!"

Four weeks earlier he told me he wanted me to do a story on military working dog training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I agreed.

Then he added with a twinkle in his eye, "Oh, by the way, I'd like you to let one of the dogs attack you (heh, heh, heh)."

You see, Arthur is an 87-pound German Shepard with 42 bone-crunching teeth and a bad attitude.

When my editor first informed me of my next writing and photo assignment, I thought he was joking. After all, we do work for a safety office. But, no, despite his cackling, he was quite serious. I'm starting to think he has a life insurance policy out on me.

Nevertheless, I saluted smartly and began to prepare for my mauling. After all, it was one more EPR bullet: "Performed in an outstanding fashion as puppy chow."

The "attack Matt Hannen day" came like a mosquito diving for a meal. I met with Staff Sgt. Shawn Alexander, one of the dog trainers, and he handed me a rather bulky suit. The suit is nearly 3 inches thick and made of a sturdy synthetic fabric to protect you from the dog's bite. When I put on my new ensemble, I looked like the Michelin Man. And even on a comfortable 70-degree day, I roasted under the heavily padded garment.

Alexander and his team coached me on how to "survive" the brutal assault, and gave me a few safety tips: "Keep your hands inside the arms of the suit. Move with the dog, to prevent pulling muscles or straining joints. Keep your arm out and your head back, because the dog will latch onto the first thing he sees."

While safety briefings are always important. And for this one, in particular, I was all ears. I especially took note of that tip to keep my unprotected head back ... no sense in getting my face chewed off.

Finally, the moment of truth.

Arthur didn't seem to like me any better than my editor did. He sunk his teeth into my arm, and then my leg. Even with the protective suit, I could feel the nearly 500 pounds of pressure per square inch that Arthur's mouth was reputed to deliver. Trapped in his vice, he proceeded to try to tear off my limbs.

As the trainers drug him off, I stood up and thought to myself, "Well, that wasn't so bad."

Then my editor, who, not surprisingly, had volunteered to shoot the photographs of my altercation with Arthur, said with relish, "OK, we'll have to do this a few more times (heh, heh, heh)."

A half a dozen violent confrontations later, I had no doubts about the capability of a military working dog attack and suppression. Any thoughts of beginning a life of crime disappeared with the first onslaught.

Soaked with sweat, exhausted, sore and sporting a throbbing headache, I sat down on a bench while the trainers helped me get out of my suit. They pulled the legs of the suit, and I shot off the bench and fell on my rear with a thud. My foggy brain could only make out one thing ... a familiar cackling rising through the din.