On March 13, 1942, “K-9 Corps” became an official part of the United States Army. Brave dogs had been serving alongside their human companions from the dawn of civilization, and the Army saw fit to use their incredible courage and instincts to our advantage.
More than 30,000 Military Working Dogs (MWD) have served since the founding of K-9 Corps, and around 700 are deployed at any given time. Before that, they served informally beside the soldiers they loved.
Sallie the Bull Terrier protected her compatriots in the Civil War, participating in famous battles such as Antietam, Second Bull Run and Gettysburg. Rags the Mutt is the mascot of the 1st Infantry Division, and fought through serious injury in WWI. Smoky the Yorkie warned soldiers of incoming artillery with her sharp sense of hearing in WWII. There are many more, including the renowned Sgt. Stubby, who give war dogs a good name.
Today, the Army salutes these canine warriors, some 2,500 of which serve actively. They are able to use their sense of smell — which is 40 times stronger than a human’s — to detect deadly devices with 98% accuracy.
Paws-itively important members of our military
Dogs have a natural instinct to protect and defend, which has earned them a place in over 40% of American households. Military dogs, however, receive highly-specialized training that makes them invaluable assets to our service members, both at home and overseas.
Besides bomb sniffing, MWDs have been known to carry messages, lay telegraph wire, dig out victims of explosions, patrol and guard locations, and even lay down their lives in defense of their handlers.
These pups — all automatically given the rank of NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) — have the utmost dedication to their job: keeping soldiers safe. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Pit Bulls are popular choices for MWDs and police dogs. However, Smoky (the Yorkshire Terrier) shows us that breeds in all shapes and sizes can make the cut.
Despite their loyalty, we have not always treated military dogs with the respect they deserve.
In Vietnam, 4,000 MWDs saved more than 10,000 American lives. When the end of the war came about, only 204 returned to American soil. The dogs were either killed in action or left behind; their honorable service forgotten by all but those they had saved.
Since then, American Humane has pushed for these dogs to be recognized, and treated like the heroes they are. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act ensures that all MWDs are returned to the States when they retire. Around 90% are adopted by their former handlers.
Corporal Jose Armentain, an Afghanistan veteran who adopted his MWD, Zenit, says:
“He’s like my quiet partner. He bridges three worlds: the person I was before Afghanistan, the one I was there, and the one I became after.”
How can we honor the service of military dogs?
Military dogs are underappreciated members of our Armed Forces. When we think of our heroes overseas, oftentimes we forget about the ones on four legs.
For their selflessness in the face of danger, these dogs need to be recognized and awarded. American Humane has a variety of programs designed to help both service members and their MWDs. One of note is their Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs.
This Center works to assist MWDs both on and off the battlefield. Their goal is to give them a happy life post-retirement, and hopefully reunite them with their beloved handlers. They also help match veterans struggling with PTSD and TBI with service dogs, and provide emotional therapy animals to military families.
To read more on American Humane or contribute to their efforts, click here: https://www.americanhumane.org/program/military/
You can nominate a dog for the Lois Pope Life K-9 Medal of Courage here: https://form.jotformpro.com/70614458814964