POSTED: Friday, July 12, 2013 - 8:30pm
UPDATED: Friday, July 12, 2013 - 8:34pm
Cooper, TX (KETK) — KETK traveled to rural Delta County, about a 90 minute drive north of Tyler to meet Mike Ritland: a retired Navy SEAL with a love of country and a passion for a very unique animal.
Ritland is lucky enough to be paid for the job of a lifetime, training four-legged warriors to accompany America's elite SEAL teams and special operation soldiers in harms way around the world.
The former soldier grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was raised with a love for dogs. His first pup was a black lab, Bud.
"I always marveled at their physical attributes," said Ritland. "Being able to find ducks early on or track animals."
His passion followed him into his military career. The former SEAL was always fascinated by service K-9's and he says the "light switch" moment happened when his team was in Iraq during the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"There was a marine group that had a dog with them and there was this cave complex, and the dog went ahead of the group and he found a series of grenade boobie-traps right inside the doorway. Typically, these guys would just rush right in and assault the cave. And had that dog not been there, without a doubt, the first couple of guys would've been killed or severely wounded," said Ritland.
This set the SEAL's path from there on out. He had found his calling in special operations K-9s.
Man's best friend suddenly became a war hero, fighting alongside our country's most elite. They trained with Ritland just like their two-legged counterparts for years: fast roping, parachuting from planes, swimming, and boarding helicopters headed for harm's way.
"They have to be even-keeled and social enough to pile into a helo with 30 other guys while things are blowin' up. It's mad chaos. And that dog has to be confident and clear-headed enough to know these are the good guys, those are the bad guys," Ritland explained. "All this chaos is happening and that's where training and genetics has to mesh and come into 'the perfect storm' so to speak."
After leaving his military career, Ritland started his own company, Trikos, in rural Delta County. He spends his days training the very dogs he and his SEAL comrades relied on to battle America's enemies.
"We've had dogs to just about ever different federal agency: Customs, Border Patrol, TSA, our military, police departments. We also do personal protection dogs in homes all over the world," said Ritland.
But this East Texan by choice is proudest of his dogs present on the front lines.
"To me, it speaks volumes that our most elite soldiers use these dogs to protect themselves," said the former warrior beaming with pride. "To have dogs go to units goin' abroad and protectin' our boys down range to me, it doesn't get any better than that. It's a feeling of continued service and to me. I've spent the overwhelming majority of my adult life in that capacity and so to be able to continue to do that, do what I love and be here with the family, it's pretty tough to beat."
To learn more on Mike Ritland's company: Trikos and to find out about his book: Trident K-9 Warriors follow this link: http://trikos.com/