K9 Veterans Day— March 13, 2017
By Erika Lombardo and Dr. Aliya McCullough
“The capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance, their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory.” –General David Petreaus
Dogs are called “man’s best friend” for many good reasons. They love us unconditionally, they are quick to forgive, and we beam with pride when they show off their tricks. Dogs are incredible animals and many dogs have done extraordinary things in their short lives. On this day, we recognize some of the most notable of these canines: Military Working Dogs (MWDs).
Many troops have come to rely on MWDs to help keep them safe and assist them in their jobs. These dogs are specially trained to detect explosives, seek out illegal drugs, look for missing troops, and target enemies. Not only are they active on the front lines, but behind the scenes they can also serve as therapy dogs and service dogs. Their visual, auditory, and olfactory senses are superhuman. Did you know that dogs have 10-20 times the scent receptors in their nose and the area of their brain devoted to smell is very large? MWDs can detect intruders from 200 meters with little or no wind or up to 1000 meters away in windy conditions!
There have been some famous canine war heroes in our history. A German Shepherd mix named Chips was one of the first dogs trained and sent overseas. He was responsible for many enemy surrenders and he was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and the Purple Heart. Another very decorated war hero was Sergeant Stubby. The only dog to achieve the rank of Sergeant, Sgt. Stubby was found as a stray on the campus of Yale in 1917 and then smuggled into France during WWI by his adoptive owner. He went on to save his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks and even captured a German spy by his pants! Gunner, a Kelpie, was known for his remarkable hearing. He was able to warn of troops of an encroaching Japanese aircraft 20 minutes before it could be seen on radars. Air raid sirens were sounded when Gunner gave the warning, he was that reliable!
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are around 2700 active duty MWDs in our country’s armed forces. These MWDs are deployed all over the world with a large number of them stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally, there were over 30 breeds trained to be MWDs but recently that list of breeds has been narrowed down to 7: German Shepherds, Dobermans, Belgian Sheepdogs, Huskies, Farm Collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes. Only 50% of dogs who start training actually pass and go on to serve. Their typical span of service is around 8 years. Prior to the year 2000, dogs who finished their service were considered “military surplus equipment” and it was thought that they could not properly adjust to civilian life. In these instances, the dogs were abandoned or euthanized. In the year 2000, President Clinton passed a law called “Robby’s Law”, this allows MWD handlers and their families to adopt the dog after completing its military service.
Military Working dogs, when trained, are worth tens of thousands of dollars, but when it comes to the security, peace of mind, and companionship they provide to their fellow soldier, they are priceless. Today, we remember all those exceptional canines who have selflessly served our country.
“The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” –George Graham Vest