Honoring our K-9 War Heroes on Veterans Day, November 11, 2011

I went to Pet Supplies Plus in Highland Park to purchase raw dog food for my two Tibetan Terriers.  When checking out, I noticed a donation jar for U.S. War Dogs with some coins and cash in it.  Ever curious, I asked the clerk about it.  She told me that dogs who serve in combat or police work and who are exposed to all sorts of trauma, both physical and presumed emotional, are now able to return to the United States rather than being abandoned or euthanized as they were in the past.  I was shocked ... both by my own lack of knowledge about this working class of dogs and by the notion that they were unrecognized.  Then, being an inveterate investigator, I explored the web to learn more about them.  The following is what I learned.  An ABC news report in May, 2011, (ABC News - War Veteran Dog Adoptions Rising but They Are Still Not Officially Recognized) also provides a great summary of the history and stories of these unsung heroes as told in an interview with Ron Aiello, President of the United States War Dogs Association who states "these dogs are imbued with the responsibility of "guarding and protecting Military personnel as they were trained to do, with Courage, Loyalty, and Honor."

Dogs have been used in combat situations throughout history in the United States, even unofficially during the Civil War and officially during World War I.  After World War II, most went home with their handlers.  However, despite being responsible for saving the lives of over 10,000 U.S. troops during combat in Vietnam, most were either abandoned or euthanized, considered as military 'surplus armaments'.  Only 204 were returned home.  As stated on the US War Dogs website, "their training is intense; their working conditions are deplorable; their lives are always on the line; and in at least one case, namely Vietnam, their rewards were non-existent ... the most innocent and vulnerable of combat veterans - Our Nation's War Dogs."  War dogs may still be under-recognized, but they are no longer abandoned or euthanized.  In 2000, President Clinton legalized their adoption after retiring from active duty.

While many have been adopted to live out their elder years in peace and contentment and there is now a waiting list for adoption, there are many other needs of  both the handlers and their dogs which would benefit from public donations, among them, support of service dog organizations, assistance in the adoption of retiring police and military dogs, and for support of post-deployment returning troops.  If you want to make a contribution, visit their website.

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  • Thank you for writing about this...This is a topic I've written about many times, for many years, and have worked with legislators on - finding ways to celebrate military working dogs. American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards is on November 11 on the Hallmark Channel.

  • Glad to know about the AHA Hero Dog Awards on Nov 11, Steve. The more people getting the word out, the better for these wonderful dogs.

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