Honoring K9 Veterans on March 13

By Caryl Clem:

Dogs have their own day for military service recognition.  A national day to give them credit took over 100 years.  I had no idea that dogs served as equal partners in combating the enemy dating as far back as 600 B.C.  In the United States, dogs were first used in the Revolutionary War but never gained recognition until after World War I.  A retired military dog trainer, Joseph White originated the idea to honor veteran canines on the birthday of the first Army K9 Corps which was March 13th.  An estimated 2,500 dogs are in service today while 700 maybe overseas.

I grew up watching television famous, Rin Tin Tin dog adventures. I had no idea that the brave, compassionate dog I adored had been rescued from a battlefield during World War I.  One of the strategies noticed by troops overseas during WWI was the Europe’s employment of dogs during warfare. As a young man fighting for his life in Germany, Lee saves a pup from a bombed demolished dog kennel. Lee Duncan, when young had been orphaned then taken away by his mother to have a dog as his sole companion. The fascinating story of Lee and his dog going to Hollywood after the war is in the book, RIN IN TIN, The Life and The Legend by Sue Orlean.

During World War I, several dogs are credited with saving troops lives. One story is about a stray Pit bull who prevent a siren gas attack and survived injuries from other combat arenas. Three Presidents met this dog at the White House.  Sergeant Stubby’s remains are in the Smithsonian.  In Italy, Chips attacked a group of soldiers in a machine gun nest forcing them out to be captured.  Chips was given medals but they were rescinded because the Army has a law that animals cannot receive awards.

Sources to supply United States trained military dogs are from breeders in Germany and the Netherlands. To become a certified pup trainer is a credible career with specialized training. Various duties the dogs perform fighting alongside our soldiers include locating bombs, searching for drugs, tracking people and imitating an attack.  US Navy Seals use Belgian Malinois dogs who join their handlers to parachute from helicopters and rappel on steep inclines.

A life career for a military dog averages from 6-7 years before they are forced to retire. There was no program in place to find homes for these gentle giants so many were released or euphonized before 2000.  President Clinton passed a law that protected these dogs, now over 90% are usually adopted by their handlers. The Department of Defense handles thousands of adoptions and many dogs transfer their military skills to law enforcement police departments. A bomb sniffing canine has $150,000 estimated value. Dogs are 40 times more aware of a scent than humans.

The loving unbreakable bond between a human and a dog is described in the official poem selected by the K9 Corps to represent the regard for the canines that stand by our military men and women Guardians of the Night .

The phrase “Man’s Best Friend” gains more appreciation and depth as we honor our canine veterans on March 13th.