SERVING OUR VETERANS: 10 things you may not know about dogs in the military
A few months ago, I wrote a column about “Horses In War.” I did receive a number of favorable comments about this. Knowing there are probably more dog lovers out there than horse lovers, today I would like to share ten things you may not know about military dogs.
1. Dogs have been in combat with U.S. soldiers during every major conflict, but they were not officially recognized until WWII. Sergeant Stubby of the 102nd Infantry, Yankee Division, went from mascot to hero during WW1. After being smuggled into battle by Private J. Robert Conway. Stubby went on to detect enemy gas, mark out warnings when rival troops were near and locate the wounded on the battlefield. By the start of WWII, the military had recognized the value canine soldiers could bring and began using them primarily for reconnaissance. Stubby forged the way for all canine soldiers who followed and remains a symbol of military bravery and heroism to this day. Stubby is the subject of a 2018 animated film.
2. Military dogs are trained in bomb, weapon and drug detection, tracking and to attack enemies. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas has been training sentry dogs since 1958. Today, more than 1,000 dogs are trained at any given time by a staff of 125 from all branches of military service.
3. There are about 2,500 dogs in active service today and about 700 deployed overseas. Military dogs play an integral role in current overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These dogs are among our most effective counter measures against terrorists and explosives.
4. Eighty-five percent of military dogs are purchased from Germany and the Netherlands. The other 15 percent of working dogs are U.S.A. born and bred and the military hopes to increase this number.
5. Military dogs are extremely valuable, and not just for their service. A fully trained bomb detection dog is likely worth over $150,000. But really, these animals are priceless. With an average of 98 percent accuracy in their detection skills, the peace of mind they provide to the troops is unmeasurable.
6. Only about 50 percent make it through training. Military working dogs are not just chosen for their breeding or their keenness of their sense of smell. They must possess several qualities. They must be free of physical issues and be highly motivated. They must also have just the right level of aggression and excitability.
7. They are not all German Shepherds. They may be first to come to our minds, but several different breeds have shown patriotic heroism over the years. Many branches use the highly trainable Labrador Retriever. The elite US Navy Seals use the Belgian Malinois, a breed similar to the German Shepherd, but smaller. The Seals were accompanied by a Belgian Malinois named Cairo during their raid in 2013 in which Osama Bin Laden was killed.
8. Military dogs can get PTSD. Just like their brothers and sisters in arms, dog soldiers are susceptible to horrors they see and feel. War dogs experience severe emotional trauma during deployment and for some, it becomes too much.
9. Military dogs mourn the loss of their handler and vice versa. There is a remarkable bond that develops between service dog and handler. If a dog of war is lost in combat, he or she is honored by the entire squad. Feeding dishes are symbolically placed upside down and a poem called, “Guardians of the Night” is read in their honor.
10. Until November 2000, military dogs were euthanized or abandoned after retirement. Before this time, service dogs were considered “military surplus equipment” and deemed unfit to adjust to civilian life. These heroes were thrown away or “put down” instead of honored. President Clinton passed “Robby’s Law” in 2000 which allows handlers and their families first dibs at adopting military animals at the end of their useful service. The dogs are next offered to law enforcement, then adoptive families.
As American citizens, let us always remember and express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has played a role in earning and preserving the freedom of our great nation. This includes our military dogs as well. They too, like our military horses, were created by the same hand that created you and me. They have faced injury, loss of loved ones and even death for our country. May God continue to bless all His creatures, both great and small, especially those who are faithful servants for our land.
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