“It is my red ball. I love my red ball. My red ball always lays right beside me. I watch my ball at all times. Ball. Ball.
“Sometimes, I throw my red ball to my human. Chris is my human. I love Chris. Chris. Chris. Chris.”
The feeling is mutual. Chris Korzeniowski, 10, can’t keep his paws off the long-haired German shepherd he describes as “my best friend” at his family’s home in the countryside north of Lady Lake.
“He’s very hairy. I’m OK with it. My dad’s OK with it. My mom, not so much,” said Chris, leaning forward and looking over his shoulder to gauge the listening powers of his mother, Dulayne. “You can’t tell my mom this, but sometimes I let him jump on my bed.”
The dog quest started last year when Chris’ dad, also Chris, started calling military bases and asking whether dogs could be adopted. They could, through a Texas nonprofit called Mission K9 Rescue, which finds homes for retired military dogs, police and prison K9s, and contract working dogs, such as Basha.
The group requires the adoptive family come meet the dog at its facility and be observed with the animal. Mission K9, founded nearly five years ago, first tries to place a retiring dog with former handlers, but that’s especially hard with contract dogs such as Basha, who often are deployed with different handlers in different branches of the service in different parts of the world. MIssion K9 places about 65 working dogs annually.
Paperwork done, Korzeniowski told the boy in early February, “Let’s jump in the truck and take a ride to Houston.” Off they went. When they arrived and met Basha, the instant bond between the boy and the dog startled even the director of the operation.
“The dog is yours,” she told the pair immediately. And so it began.
Chris virtually draped himself over his new friend 24/7 while his dad, 37, began nursing Basha, who was underweight and suffering diarrhea and vomiting at first. He got heat rashes on his skin under his thick fur, and the tendons in his jaws were hurting.
“I think he didn’t feel secure. It took a good month for him to feel confident and calm down,” Korzeniowski said.
Basha’s condition was hardly a surprise. He had been trained in Louisiana, then leased to the military and had been with both the Army and the Navy searching for bombs during his years of service.
“God knows how many missions he’s been on,” Korzeniowski said.
In addition to speaking his native dog language, the 75-pound shepherd also understands commands in Dutch because his training was in that language. He is starting to pick up on English, too. He was trained using a ball as a reward, which likely accounts for his obsession with the red one he worships and keeps drenched in saliva.
As Basha got more comfortable at the Korzeniowski home, the family took him to Chris’ school for career day — Chris wants to be a dog handler — and out to other events, where he never leaves the boy’s side.
“We’ve had people cry when they meet him. Vets love him,” Korzeniowski said.
But Chris is the one who loves him most, and Basha knows it.
“He’s really changed my life,” Chris said. “People would say that getting a new dog is a big responsibility — and it IS a big responsibility — but he’s really made life a lot funner. He’s been my companion. With Basha, I have a partner.
“I have friend over there,” Chris said, pointing toward a house down the street. “But sometimes he can’t make it and talk. Now I have this guy — my best friend.”
Interested in adopting a retired working dog? Visit www.missionk9rescue.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.