Camp Lejeune dogs and handlers featured on Animal Planet documentary

Lance Corporal Durward Shaw and his military working dog, Falco, check a vehicle in the Animal Planet documentary "Glory Hounds," premiering on Thursday.
Lance Corporal Durward Shaw and his military working dog, Falco, check a vehicle in the Animal Planet documentary "Glory Hounds," premiering on Thursday. ANIMAL PLANET

Some four-legged warriors from Camp Lejeune are getting their due in a new Animal Planet documentary debuting Thursday night.

“Glory Hounds” tells the inspiring — and often emotional — story of military working dogs and their handlers assigned to the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan. Many of the dogs and handlers featured in the film, stationed in the volatile Helmand Province, are from Camp Lejeune’s 2nd Law Enforcement Military Working Dog Platoon.

For the two-hour documentary, which airs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Animal Planet embedded a camera operator and sound technician with the Camp Lejeune Marines and with members from an Alaska-based unit in Kandahar. For six weeks, the crew closely documented the handlers and dogs who put their lives on the line sniffing out the insurgents and improvised explosive devices responsible for killing thousands of coalition troop members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The film, produced for Animal Planet by Ten100, touches on the amount of training necessary to get the dogs ready for combat situations and shows footage of harrowing, and sometimes deadly, combat missions. But the heart of the film is exploring the incredible bond between the humans and their canine partners.

Cpl. Drew Nyman, one of the Camp Lejeune Marines in the film, says the bond he formed with his dog, Emily, was different from the bonds formed with fellow Marines.

“I spent day in and day out with my dog,” Nyman said in a phone interview from Camp Lejeune. “It was just her and I, really, so I guess it was more of an intimate bond because we saw each other at our weakest and highest moments.”

“Glory Hounds” followed Nyman as he took Emily, a Belgian Malinois trained as a human tracker, on her first mission: looking not for explosives, but for the people who plant them.

“The only thing that’s between you and an IED is your dog,” Nyman said. “So it’s kind of nerve-wracking knowing that your dog doesn’t smell explosives. You have to trust that your dog is on point, not leading you to a bad area.”

Trust is key

Trust between Marine and dog is something the dog handlers in the film talk a lot about.

“Your dog has to be able to trust you,” said Lance Cpl. Kent Ferrell, also based out of Camp Lejeune, who built a strong bond with his German shepherd, Zora.

"The relationship between you and your dog is the most important part of your partnership," he says in the film. "Your dog has to be able to trust you."

Added Lance Cpl. Durward Shaw, another Lejeune Marine, in the film, “I trust my dog 100 percent.”

‘Respect and dignity’

Because it is ultimately a film about war, “Glory Hounds” contains segments that may be difficult for some viewers to watch. Not all of the dogs — or the Marines — make it home unscathed. Handling those situations with care was important to Animal Planet producers.

“It’s evident there are extraordinary bonds between the soldier and military working dogs teams we profiled in ‘Glory Hounds,’” said executive producer Lisa Lucas. “Our hope at Animal Planet is that we’ve captured their stories with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Nyman, the married father of a 5-month-old son, will leave the Marine Corps in May after five years of duty. But he doesn’t want to leave his dog-handling days completely behind him — he plans to pursue a career with working dogs.

“With these dogs, they’re doing something that no one can replicate,” Nyman said. “No machine, no human. No one can replicate it. They’re doing what’s natural to them. ... So it’s a huge asset overseas, and it’s a great morale booster, too. The number of American lives and coalition lives and Afghan lives that these dogs have saved is ridiculous.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer