The Founder’s Pen

~by Susi Pittman

May 25, 2015: WAR DOGS: Quiet Americans, Once Forgotten Heroes

Dogs have been used in war since before the birth of Christ. In the mid-7th century BC a Magnesian horsemen was accompanied by a war dog and a spear-bearing attendant. In the heat of battle his dog was released helping to break the enemy ranks. That was followed by an assault of spears, then a cavalry charge.[ An epitaph records the burial of this Magnesian horseman named Hippaemon with his dog Lethargos, his horse, and his spearman, who all perished in the battle. Later in history, the borders of Dalmatian, a Croatian seaside province, used Dalmatian type dogs (home of the Dalmatian) to warn of approaching Turks from Croatia.

In America, dogs have been aiding soldiers in war for over 100 years, recognized as chattel and expendable. A group called Dogs for Defense began immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor to promote the use of logs in the military. It was in the middle of World War II, 1942, when they were officially inducted into service. In early 1943, James M. Austin organized the War Dog program. The War Dog program helped relieve the huge financial burden undertaken by the Dogs for Defense network. With this new program, public donations would give dogs the honorary rank of seaman or private, while larger amounts conferred correspondingly higher grades.

There were tactical dogs, silent scout and messenger dogs, casualty, sledge and pack dogs; each group addressing a subversive or assisting activity vital to the troops.

Traditionally since World War II, military working dogs were returned home after the war, either to their former owners or adopted out.

The Vietnam War was different in that US war dogs were designated as surplus equipment and were either euthanized or turned over to an allied army prior to the US departure from South Vietnam and that is partly true. The ugly side of the story is one where a great number of the devoted dogs which had defended their troops and saved countless lives were left for the North Vietnamese who found a dog as a delectable menu item. Many, many dog handlers to this day have trouble in having to have been forced to leave their buddy behind. A documentary titled, War Dogs: The Forgotten Heroes narrated by Martin Sheen addressed this cruel and crushing emotional event. I remember it like it was yesterday, and will never forget the images of Americans pulling out of Viet Nam and fleeing on helicopters and ships, no dogs allowed.

There is today the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, now 3,000 members strong and committedto never give up the search to re-unite veteran war dog handlers and honor the memory of their war dog partners. They have been very instrumental in forwarding the cause for the recently issued War Dog Stamp and work for national recognition of the War Dog.

Due to lobbying efforts by veteran dog handlers from the Vietnam War,Congress approved a bill allowing veteran US military working dogs to be adopted after their military service. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a law that allowed these dogs to be adopted, making the Vietnam War the only American war in which US war dogs never came home.

Today, they’re a central part of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. War Dogs today are outfitted with equipment of their own — a range of specialized gear that includes Doggles (protective eye wear), body armor, life vests, gas masks, long-range GPS-equipped vests, and high-tech canine “flak jackets. Top-secret, super-elite U.S. Navy SEAL special forces deploy heavily armored bulletproof dogs equipped with infrared night-sight cameras and an ‘intruder communication system’ able to penetrate concrete walls.

Not all military dogs are trained to kill. There are the bomb-sniffing dogs and the vapor-wake dogs, genetically bred and specially trained canines to not only detect stationary bombs or bomb-making materials, but identify and alert their handler tothe moving scent of explosive devices and materials left behind in the air, say, as a suicide bomber walked through a crowd — all without ever tipping off the perpetrator. A dog’s brain is dominated by olfactory senses. In fact, a dog can have up to 225 million olfactory receptors in their nose — the part of their brain devoted to scent is 40 times greater than that of a human. Humans can only see what they see. A dog sees with its nose!

In October 2010, the Pentagon announced that dogs were still the most accurate sniffers around. The rate of detection with the Pentagon’s fanciest equipment — drones and aerial detectors — was a 50 percent success rate, but when a dog was involved it rose 30 percent.

Over the last two years, there has been an effort to rapidly increase the number IED detection dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq with as many as 600 dogs being deployed to serve.

Military dogs and their handlers often form deep bonds — it’s an essential part of the canine-handler relationship that is specifically built into their training regimen. The personal attachments are often so intense that it can take weeks of training before a dog can begin working with a new handler.

There are many dog advocate groups that are seeing that handler and canine buddy remain together even after serving together. Today’s war dogs are returning home to be adopted and loved by new families, or to new service or retirement. Ultimately, our country has risen to new heights in humane treatment by rewarding these quiet Americans, our war dog heroes.

After being apart for five long years, an Iraq veteran has been reunited with his old war buddy, Diego, a happy-go-lucky yellow Labrador retriever.

Thank you to all the Military War Dogs and handlers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Today we remember you.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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