Grand Forks Air Force dog retires to life on Emerado farm
EMERADO, N.D.—When a pet gets older, sometimes parents tell their children that they're taking the dog to a "farm."
But Ferra, a 10-year-old German Shepherd who retired Tuesday from Grand Forks Air Force Base, is actually making the transition from military to civilian life on an Emerado farm.
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"We feel real lucky to get her, don't we, Ferra?" Shirley Elder said as she sat outside at the farm Monday afternoon with the German Shepherd.
Ferra moseyed across the grass with her toy as the sun shone and tufts from nearby cottonwood trees floated through the air. She followed two dogs on the farm, Maple and Ralphie, and together their pack is like the three dog-migos.
Ferra peeked in on one of the horses, Tater Tot, who rolled in the hay in the stables. When Ferra went back outside, a gray kitten tried to persuade the dog to play with it, and Ferra gave the kitten a funny look when the cat tried to take over her dog bed.
Ferra moved to the farm about a week ago, and while there was an adjustment period with her diet and exploring her new digs, she's settled right in, said Chad Sherod, who adopted Ferra from the base.
"She just wants to lay around and enjoy life," Sherod said. "She's just a happy dog."
When Sherod, who works as a civilian police officer at the base, heard Ferra was going to retire from old age and arthritis, he knew he wanted to adopt her.
"They ended up doing my background and interviewing me, and since we've got some property, they thought it would be a good place for her," Sherod said.
Practically everyday, Sherod and Ferra go to the Emerado farm where Sherod's mother, Shirley Elder, and step-father, Ron Elder, live. Sherod's parents have fallen in love with Ferra just as much as Sherod has.
"She's never locked up in a kennel," Sherod said. "She's always free to do what she wants. It's a very sweet life."
A retirement ceremony for a dog at Grand Forks Air Force Base is pretty similar to what happens for one of its human employees, said Master Sgt. Nicholas Gorham, who is the operation superintendent for the base's security department and has worked with dogs for more than 15 years.
Ferra's ceremony was held at the base Tuesday, and Sherod and the Elders were there to celebrate with her.
"It's just a big celebration of her retirement, and they're going to hand her over to me and give her a civilian life, just send her off, so to speak," Sherod said.
Servicemembers of all ranks come to the ceremony to talk about the retiree's accomplishments, and Ferra even received a 12-ounce rib-eye as a "thank you" when the ceremony was done.
In her 10 years, Ferra was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. She also performed Secret Service work for President Barack Obama.
"Say like if the president was to come to North Dakota, any of the venues he would visit, we would go in advance with the Secret Service attachment," Gorham said.
Ferra sniffed out bombs and made sure buildings were safe and secure for the public and the president. She even helped with security when Pope Francis visited the U.S. last year.
But Air Force dogs weren't always adopted out when they retired, Gorham said. A little more than a decade ago, the policy was to euthanize a dog when it finished its career.
"There's not a handler in the Department of Defense that was happy with this," Gorham said.
The policy was changed and now there's a lengthy process to decide if a retired dog is best fit to work with local law enforcement, help train Airmen to become handlers or be adopted out.
Both dogs from Grand Forks Air Force Base that have reached retirement age were adopted, Gorham said, and one of those was Ferra.
"For that to happen is awesome," Gorham said.
The other was Fendy, who Sherod also adopted before he got Ferra. Fendy died of a stroke about a year ago, so when Sherod learned Ferra also could be adopted, he threw his hat in the ring to be considered.
"It was just kind of a no-brainer," Sherod said.
'An honor and privilege'
While Ferra played with the other dogs, Sherod and his parents pulled out Ferra's file from the base. She has a large medical file since the military keeps its dogs in top condition, but the family has fun reading what Ferra did in her career.
"The list goes on and on," Sherod said. "She's done a lot in her time."
The family uses the words "honor" and "privilege" to describe what it's like having Ferra living with them. Ron and Shirley Elder worked at the Grand Forks International Airport for more than 30 years, and the two both served in the Marine Corps, so they're proud to have another military addition to the family.
"She's a veteran, and I'm really happy she's here," Ron Elder said of Ferra.
Ron Elder, who served in the Vietnam War, said he remembers the dogs that were assigned to his unit when he deployed, so he has a lot of respect for what those dogs and Ferra did.
"We had dogs who would take us on a night ambush and night patrol in Vietnam," he said.
It is fun to read through Ferra's file, but Sherod said he doesn't think of her any differently than any other pet, and he doesn't want to.
"What she does in her military life, I wasn't trained in that, so I really don't want to know," Sherod said. "I want her to be my pet."
Ferra has bonded with the family, and they're learning more about Ferra's laid-back personality.
"She won't ever refuse a cheeseburger or bologna sandwich," Sherod said.
Shirley Elder laughed and joked with Ferra that maybe they shouldn't tell the veterinarian about the meatloaf Ferra tried.
Sherod is more than willing to adopt a dog from the base again, but he knows there might be some other people who want to adopt, too.
"We're just a family that wants to do the best for the retired dogs," Sherod said.