Celebrating Canine Military Heroes this Memorial Day
by Maile Hulihan
When Summer, a 7-year-old female Labrador, served in Afghanistan, she used her nose to protect her fellow Marines, finding numerous weapon caches and IEDs, and clearing routes for travel, coming under attack in several firefights. This year she’s one of the soldiers up for an American Humane award for her exemplary military career.
Dogs have fought alongside human troops since war began, but their exploits and sacrifices are often overlooked on Memorial Day. About 2,700 dogs are currently serving with hundreds reported as killed in action since war dogs were officially recognized in WW II.
In researching a canine military hero character for the second book in my series, Trinity of Bitches, I’ve been amazed at the skill and talent of our canine troops. Typically, the dogs are trained to detect bombs, weapons, drugs, and gases; to track the enemy and to give early warning of an attack. Their ability exceeds mechanical means with an average 98% accuracy.
Canine recruitment and training are very tough—only 50% of the dogs make the grade, beginning training at age seven months. While health and sense of smell are essential, the dogs must exhibit focused, aggressive behavior and a strong desire to work for a reward. It’s expensive to train the animals to exacting standards, and some of the top dogs are worth $150,000.
We usually think of German Shepherds in this role, but Belgian Malinoises and Labrador Retrievers also commonly found in canine troops, which are traditionally sourced from Germany and the Netherlands. A Belgian Malinois named Cairo accompanied the Navy SEALS during their raid on Osama Bin Laden in 2013. The first airborne dogs jumped into combat on D-Day, accompanying British paratroopers as they fought the German armies.
Not surprisingly, canine soldiers come home with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), at about the same rate as their human compatriots. About half of the dogs who have canine PTSD return to active duty after treatment, which veterinarians often provide at the deployed area.
Yet we haven’t always respected their service. The most decorated war dog of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd mix who broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing ten enemy soldiers to surrender. Wounded in the fight, Chips was awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star, all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals. Until outlawed in 2000, retired military dogs were routinely euthanized.
By the way, although Summer retired from the military, she’s still protecting the public as part of the TSA K9 team for the Amtrak Police Department in Washington DC. You can vote for her American Humane award below. Thank you, good doggos, for your service. http://herodogawards.org/dog/summer-jones/