Died – 5/10/17
Handler – Nick Converso
He served his country with honor and fidelity befitting a warrior who protected his comrades on battlefields in distant lands, as well as his community at home. It was a devotion matched only by the love of his handler. Dingo, a retired Military Working K-9, was memorialized with full military honors Saturday morning in a solemn ceremony at Jacksonville Pet Funeral Home, Pet Cremation Center and Pet Cemetery, 4969 Beach Blvd., that drew at least 75 mourners including veterans, law enforcement officers and some who simply came to pay respect.“I came out of respect to a war hero,” said Tom Vaughters, who traveled from Fleming Island to the ceremon. It was the first time, Vaughters, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1964-69, had attended a memorial for a military K-9. “I think we should probably have more of them,” said Vaughters, noting the K-9s serve as soldiers too. Pastor Robert Stanford of Life through the Word Ministry walked to the ceremony from the church nearby. Like Vaughters, he didn’t know Dingo nor Conservo.“I think this is absolutely amazing. I think it shows a real trend in our society, where we are able to show respect for not only our servicemen and servicewomen but also great respect for the animals that serve beside them,” Stanford said. Dingo and other Military Working Dogs also have earned people’s gratitude. “If any of those dogs were able to save the life of any of our servicemen or women, I think they are deserving of a full military funeral. I believe that. … They did what they were trained to do – protect,” Stanford said. Dingo, a Belgian Malinois based at Mayport Naval Station, retired in 2012. So strong was the bond between the explosive detection and apprehension K-9, and his handler, Nick Converso, that Converso adopted his longtime loyal companion to ensure a retirment of peace and relaxation as a much-loved family dog.“He was a great dog. He was fun-loving. He loved what he did,” Converso said of Dingo following the ceremony. “We were strong together. That bond kept us together for years ….It’s almost like having a brother.” Converso retired from the Navy shortly after Dingo. He currently works with K-9s at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Although Dingo’s heart and spirit remained that of a playful puppy, he began to suffer as his 14-year-old body was breaking down after a long career.Dingo was born in Holland in January 2003 and then trained at Lackland Air Force Base before he was assigned to Mayport. He completed two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Africa. On one occasion in on in Iraq, Dingo located a massive amount of hidden explosives when they were clearing a roadside ahead of a convoy. If it hadn’t been for Dingo, the explosives could have detonated in the middle of the convoy – killing or wounding many in the blast. Dingo and Converso also completed about 50 presidential protection sweeps, which is when military K-9s are called up when the president or vice president visits an area.A folded American flag was presented to Converso during the ceremony. He held it close to his chest as if giving Dingo one last hug to go with a final salute. Converso said the decision to put Dingo down was one of the hardest things he’s ever done in his life. But the pain of Dingo’s decline and passing, Converso said, doesn’t diminish the love and the joy they shared as partners over the years.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Converso said. Jimmy Hughey, founder and director of the pet cremation facility, said Saturday’s ceremony was the first time an event of this magnitude has been conducted for a military dog. The facility features separate sections for police K-9s and military K-9s to be memorialized. A permanent memorial for Dingo was installed at the military K-9 memorial. Hughey recited “Guardians of the Night” a poem by an unknown author commemorating law enforcement and military working dogs for their unceasing love, loyalty and devotion to their human partners. Honor guards from Mayport and Jacksonville Beach presented the colors. Motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion Riders formed a flag line. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Pipes and Drums team closed the ceremony with a rendition of taps.