FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Northern Colorado is a great place to retire— just ask Largo Ivers.
He loves leisurely walks in his neighborhood just outside Laporte. There’s always an event to occupy him. And, best of all, he gets to sleep on a real bed.
“He got accustomed to that very fast,” Heather Ivers said with a laugh, looking down at the 80-pound, all-black German shepherd sprawled on her living room floor.
For years, Largo was deployed to places like Kuwait and Iraq, where he lived in no-frills barracks and served as a military police dog in the United States Marine Corps.
Now, a little more than a year into retirement, he can be seen walking around Fort Collins as one of the area’s few retired war dogs, playing on local playground equipment — “it reminds him of all the agility training he had to do” — and stopping at various events that honor veterans and the role of dogs in the military.
Dogs have been used by the U.S. military since World War I, with German shepherds and Labrador retrievers becoming the most common breeds, according to the United States War Dogs Association.
Largo, now 9, was born in the Czech Republic and trained as a military police dog and bomb sniffing dog, according to Ivers. He was capable of sniffing dozens of different explosives, but details of that are classified — and redacted — in his official retirement paperwork, she said.
When out on the town, Largo often sports a red vest, which makes some people assume he’s a service animal. After they get a look at his patches — “U.S. Marine Corps Retired,” ″SSgt Largo,” ″Please Ask to Pet Me” — the questions start coming.
“He’s just such a good dog that people want to know about him,” Ivers said.
Heather and her husband, Brian, adopted Largo last February. Brian, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in 2016 after 27 years, first met Largo and his latest handler, Sgt. Chris Sandbeck, before they were deployed to Kuwait in 2015.
Largo later injured his back in Iraq and, after getting back to the states, it was time for him to retire. With Sandbeck, his handler, still on active duty at the time, Largo needed a home.
So the Ivers family stepped in.
Since adopting him last February, Heather said there was a bit of an adjustment period. After such intense training as a military dog, Largo initially insisted on doing a “perimeter search” whenever he arrived at a new place.
Even when his new family took him to church, he had to get his nose to the ground and sniff the building’s borders.
“I don’t know what he’s doing, but I just let him go,” Heather said.
He also doesn’t “speak dog,” she added, saying that while he’s very gentle, he can overwhelm other dogs.
“He wants to play, but doesn’t understand when they’re like, ‘No, back off,‘” she said.
He and the Iverses’ other dog — a 13-year-old Australian shepherd named Scout — put up with each other, but aren’t necessarily pals.
“They cohabitate,” Heather said diplomatically.
But as a family with a long military history and future — the couple’s oldest son, George, is currently at Marine Corps boot camp, and their second oldest, David, is headed there this summer — Largo fits right in.
Coming in at 80 pounds, Largo lumbers around the Ivers’ home with a slight hitch in his step — the only visible sign of his career-ending back injury. But he remains active in retirement, requiring daily walks to stave off the would-be boredom of a more sedentary life.
He also enjoys a major perk of civilian life: treats.
“When they’re in the military, nobody’s allowed to feed him because they didn’t want him getting distracted, so snacks are definitely his favorite thing,” Heather said as she walked into the kitchen, grabbed a dog treat and tossed it to a perked-up Largo.
For a real treat, he gets the occasional empty plastic water bottle.
Grabbing a bottle from the kitchen, Heather held it in front of her face. Largo jumped, setting his paws on either of her shoulders, and waited.
Ever the obedient, patient dog, Largo waited until the very moment Heather let the bottle fall into this mouth.
He clenched the flimsy plastic, excitedly dragging the bottle down to the floor, perching it between his paws and gnawing on its crunchy exterior — just one of the simple joys of retirement.