Military Working Dogs: Canine Heroes
My dog is a beautiful, mostly black German Shepherd who once escaped a backyard by pushing a grill to the fence and using it as a ladder to his freedom. He has also gone into the pantry, helped himself to a Snapple by piercing the lid with a tooth and then removing it without ever spilling a drop. Whether he just wanted to read the trivia on the inside of the cap is still up for debate. While I am equal parts proud and annoyed by his brilliance, it is this intelligence and athleticism that has made dogs one of the essential tools on the battleground, giving up their lives in numbers while they save thousands upon thousands of others.
So intrigued by what dogs offer us, not just as our loving pets, but out there in that hellish war zone where even few humans are brave enough to go, I began to read article after article about Military Working Dogs known as Military War Dogs. The more I read the more in awe I became of their enormous contribution to our human battles
Army Specialist Thomas J. Jackson, now stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, recently returned from his deployment from Afghanistan. Among the duties of his harrowing mission he lead the way through enemy fire, creeping into Taliban houses in the middle of the night to look for weapon caches. He was also dropped by helicopter into fields aside houses full of insurgents where he would wait patiently to be retrieved again after the mission was complete. Jackson is an incredibly heroic soldier, and yet there was one soldier who stepped into harm’s way ahead of Jackson, assuring safety to the rest of the troops. That soldier was Toby, a black Labrador Retriever with a graying muzzle and a silly lab grin. Toby’s reward for going out on a death defying mission – playtime with his favorite ball. Jackson received a Bronze Star for exceptional service, but he never forgot that Toby was beside or in front of him for every intrepid step. On the Military Working Dog Team Support Association web site, Jackson posted of Toby, “He saved my life and the lives of the men I worked with. I am an American Soldier, and he is my Hero.”
Toby’s story is no exaggeration; it’s what a Military Working Dogs does. While in Afghanistan, Toby went on hundreds of patrols and discovered many IEDs, caches of Rocket Propelled Grenades and a 250 pound Russian bomb that had been left undetonated after the Russian occupation. When a Marine was gravely injured, Toby cleared a path, making it easier for medical personnel to make it to the wounded who were bleeding profusely.
On another mission, Toby entered a house first and then stopped in the doorway, unwilling to allow any of his fellow soldiers to enter. The house was discovered to be booby-trapped, ready to explode as soon as someone flipped on the light switch. These amazing dogs go everywhere their handlers go and often places their handler can’t go. Military Working Dogs parachute or repel into combat and even swim into action. Even the elite Seal Team Six included one dog named Cairo, on their mission to take out Osama bin Laden.
Dogs’ service to our military goes far beyond the war on terror. In United States history, dogs have been fearless warriors, partners and rescuers for over 100 years. Although they were not officially acknowledged as part of the armed services until World War II when 10,000 specially trained canines were deployed.
When American Military went to Vietnam, hundreds of dogs were added to their bases. Within the year of adding the dogs, enemy attacks on American bases were stopped when the Vietcong discovered dog teams. The Vietcong was in such fear of military dogs that they placed a bounty on the lives of both the dogs and their handlers. The United States War Dogs Association estimates that over 10,000 American lives were saved in Vietnam by man’s best friend.
Over the years several types of dogs have been Military Working Dogs but more recently the majorities are German and Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that these dogs are chosen because of their unyielding affection and devotion to their partners as well as their ability to bite with a force between 400 and 700 pounds.
Different dogs have different skills but in total they complete the following duties: SENTRY DOGS give warning and are extremely valuable while working in the dark or alerting toward attacks from behind. Sentry dogs were even used by the Coast Guard in WW II as coastal fortification guarding against enemy submarine activity.
SCOUT or PATROL DOGS detect snipers and ambushes. They are trained to work in complete silence. Just the mere presence of dogs on patrol greatly decreased the possibility of an ambush, which in turn was a morale boost for the troops.
MESSENGER DOGS require extreme loyalty, as they must be trusted to go from one handler to another. They travel silently and are able to use natural cover.
CASUALTY DOGS are trained to search and report casualties in obscure locations. Their ability to identify an injured soldier who needs immediate attention has closed the gap in those crucial minutes that make the critical difference and has saved countless lives.
In current wars, the dogs are outfitted in protective armor as well as small cameras making it possible for their handlers to send the dogs at least 1000 feet ahead of them to get a look at what they’re up against. Again, putting their loyalty and obedience ahead of fear.
The dogs’ very presence on a military base has an uplifting effect on the troops. These innocent beasts will play ball with them and lick their faces in one moment, and ferociously defend them with their lives in the next. But it is the dogs’ unmatched ability to sniff out explosives that may have technically saved the most lives. Millions of dollars have been spent on technology that can detect bombs, but none have come close to the detections made by a Military Working Dogs and their handler.
Like any good partnership, many of the soldiers assume a short hand with their four-legged partners. Some handlers have even claimed their dogs share their personality or think the same way they do. Out in the fight against terror, the dogs and their soldiers even begin to resemble each other, covered in desert dust as they trudge together in combat.
That’s why it’s no surprise that even the toughest men and women have been known to shed tears when their time with their service dog comes to an end. And I can see why. After all, these dogs truly live up to their K9 Promise:
My eyes are your eyes. To watch and protect you and yours. My ears are your ears. To hear and detect evil minds in the dark. My nose is your nose to scent the invader of your domain. And so you may live, my life is also yours.
This Memorial Day when I think of and honor all the men and women who have been in service for our country, I will also think of the Military Working Dogs, and will cherish the fact that they love man more than they fear war.
Want to read more amazing stories about Military Working Dogs? We recommend these great books: Soldier Dogs by Maria Goodavage and Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog By Mike Dowling. All proceeds from the Found Animals Amazon store go to helping pets.