It’s no secret we encourage folks to adopt dogs in need of homes. (Seriously, if you’re thinking of adopting, go here now, then come back to the article.) Sure, it feels great to know that a dog has found their forever home and won’t need to worry about love, food, and shelter but sometimes we overlook the good pets bring into our lives. Never is that more apparent than with dogs with jobs. Working dogs show us just how much some animals improve the quality of life for their owners and human co-workers. Here are some interesting working dog facts to think about as we observe K9 Veterans Day this March 12th.
Dogs have amazingly performed military roles for around 2500 years. They have served as scouts, guards and, in recent times, as effective detectors of explosives. WWI’s Sgt. Stubby detected mustard gas, located injured soldiers, and even captured a spy. Springer spaniel Theo rooted out hidden weapons and explosives in the recent conflict in Afghanistan. These dogs and thousands of others performed dangerous tasks to help keep their human companions safe. K-9 Veteran’s Day was established to honor the canine heroes who have risked their lives to help their fellow soldiers accomplish their objectives.
Dogs returning from military service often are in need of a home. The dog’s handler is given the option to adopt them. If they decline, the dogs are free to be adopted by anyone. Lackland Air Force Base, home to the US military dog-training program, proudly notes they have a waitlist of people eager to house dogs returning from active duty. Some military dogs continue their service efforts as they provide support for veterans suffering from PTSD. Often the support is mutual as military dogs themselves may be dealing with PTSD, and having an owner able to address this can be very beneficial to the animal.
Dogs serving in police forces are also a common sight. They allow law enforcement agents to track and pursue suspects who might otherwise escape. The dogs sniff out drugs and explosives that would be otherwise very difficult or unsafe for their human team members to locate. German Shepherds are the most common breed used but Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers are among the other breeds that also assist law enforcement. Many US police dogs actually begin their training in Europe, which requires their American handlers to learn commands in Dutch, German, Czech, or whatever the dog’s “native language” might be!
Therapy dogs have been providing support to humans struggling with a variety of physical and mental challenges. Guide dogs that serve as the eyes of their owners took off in the 1920’s. Diabetes alert dogs use their sense of smell to detect changes in their owner’s breath that indicate a drop in blood sugar. Even more amazing is the current research being done to determine how some dogs are able to detect certain cancers and predict seizures. Dogs’ ability to catch some medical conditions before they become an emergency is truly incredible.
In addition to these physical services, many therapy dogs provide emotional support. Registered therapy dogs visit hospitals to help cheer up and reduce stress among patients receiving a variety of procedures. They are also used to lift spirits at long-term care facilities. Emotional support dogs also are effective in combatting depression and anxiety as they provide unconditional love and serve as a welcome distraction from negative thoughts.
Sure, dogs dominate this list. Any list about pets with jobs however, would be remiss not to mention the countless farm cats that have selflessly protected humans’ grains and other crops from hordes of mice and rats for over 9,000 years. It’s not as glamorous as catching criminals or detecting explosives, but it is appreciated!
K9 Veterans Day is a good time to remember that while all animals should be approached with care, be doubly sure to do so with working animals. No matter how cute they are, they won’t be able to perform their job if they’re constantly getting stopped by strangers looking to pet them! Also, even if you don’t need the special skills of the pups mentioned above, bringing a pet into your life has been shown to reduce stress, combat depression, and may even lower your risk of heart disease. So, check out our adoption page!