TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Most people who share a passion for dogs volunteer at shelters or adopt when they can, but some Airmen have a duty and bond with their canine friends that you can’t find anywhere else.
Staff Sgt. Caitlin Bourque is a military working dog handler for the 325th Security Forces Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base. A military working dog handler is responsible for the care and training of his or her service dog, which contributes to combat operations abroad and installation security at home by providing target odor detection for both explosives and drugs.
Bourque joined the Air Force in 2013 to further her education and travel. She enlisted as a security forces specialist, a prerequisite for anyone wanting to become a working dog handler. She chose security forces because of family members serving previously in the very same job.
Bourque first realized her desire to work with canines when she was assigned a supervisor who was already a dog handler.
“He showed me the ropes and I immediately fell in love with the job,” Bourque said. “Having a dog as a partner is the best option in my opinion. These working dogs are selfless, loyal and extremely courageous. You can’t ask for anyone better to watch your back. Working with them on a daily basis is a lot of hard work and dedication, but it’s all worth it.”
Bourque attributes much of her motivations for the job to the joy she gets from bonding with Atila, her working dog partner, and knowing the importance of her duty. She said her favorite missions are the ones, which allow her to spend more time with her partner.
“I would definitely say I have a passion for animals,” Bourque said. “I love working with my dog and the other handlers every day. While being stationed at Tyndall, I have been on two Secret Service missions for both the president and vice president. The best part about these assignments is that I get to spend more one-on-one time with Atila.”
Bourque said she enjoys the mentality and professionalism that is instilled into all the Airmen in her unit.
“The guys trust me and respect my abilities as a handler just like I do all of them,” Bourque said. “Here it’s about the work you put in and the final product you can produce.”
Along with her professional life, Bourque is married and balances a relationship while serving as an Airman.
“With my job I travel a lot,” Bourque added. “That is one of the biggest challenges while serving and having a spouse. My family time is huge to me so being separated can be hard. She understands my job and its requirements though, so she never makes a fuss of it. We’ve been married going on two years this coming November.”
The partnership Atila and Bourque share has been a journey with its own unique set of challenges. Canines, like humans, have their own personalities and it can take time for a working dogs to get used to a new handler.
“Atila and I bumped heads when I was first assigned to him,” Bourque said. “He quickly proved to be one of the more difficult dogs I’ve handled. Eventually though, he started to warm up to me and our bond started to grow. We are becoming a more cohesive team every day.”
Bourque said for her personal goals she’d like to eventually open her own gym and finish her degree. She also said that she wishes to continue to work in the K-9 career field and grow as a handler.
“I’d really like to become a trainer and guide other handlers,” Bourque said. “I’d also like to advance Atila in his training, since one of us can’t grow without the other. The reason I love being around these dogs is because I know that I impact their lives just as much as they do mine on a daily basis.”
Because of her dedication and enthusiasm on the job, Bourque was given the opportunity to show Col. Michael Hernandez, 325th Fighter Wing commander, what it is like to be a military working dog handler. She was able to give him an idea of what it’s like to be a handler at Tyndall and how they would respond to various law enforcement scenarios that could occur on a military installation.