If you are anything like me, you feel great pride over the men and women serving in our military. My brother is in the Army and served in Iraq, so I am very proud of him. As a dog lover, I am very glad to see all the news coverage of our military dogs. Most people probably didn’t know how often they are used in military action until recently. The news of the Navy SEALs including a military dog during their raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound has brought a lot of attention to the subject, but dogs have been fighting next to U.S. soldiers since the Civil War (they were officially inducted into the U.S. Army in 1942).
The main job for military dogs is sniffing out improvised explosive devices (IED’s), which are the number one killer in Afghanistan. The military has invested millions of dollars into technology trying to find a good way to detect IED’s, but nothing has been as successful as dogs and their handlers. They are also capable of finding enemies and tracking down anyone who tries to escape. They parachute from planes directly into action, rappel from helicopters, and swim when needed. They are outfitted with special gear that consists of protective body armor, oxygen masks and infrared night-sight cameras that allow the handler to see what the dog sees up to a 1,000 yards away. The handler is able to communicate with the dog through a speaker on the vest.
When I first thought of military dogs, I thought of German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They are definitely the most common breeds used, but you will also find Labrador Retrievers and even Jack Russell Terriers working next to their handlers. The terriers are used in submarines for sniffing out explosives.
Military dogs are officially considered equipment by the Defense Department (there is some legislation going on in Congress trying to change that), but they are anything but equipment to their handler. Dog and handler often are together 24/7 with each other. They depend on each other for everything, even their lives.
But one of the biggest jobs, and often overlooked job, that military dogs have are not in action, but as therapy dogs. Many soldiers are suffering from stress during their deployment and even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dogs are now being used as therapy dogs for the men and women who suffer from this. But like humans, dogs too can suffer from PTSD. Finally last year, the military officially recognized the disorder in dogs. Just like humans, war can have devastating effects on dogs. But now the military is putting more money into finding better treatment for our 4 legged heroes.
I could go on and on about this subject. If you want to know more, I highly recommend reading “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes” by Maria Goodavage.
If you feel like you want to do something more, you can always donate to The United States War Dogs Association, Inc. You can also call your senator and let them know you support the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, which directs the Secretary of Defense (DOD) to classify military working dogs as canine members of the Armed Forces.