The U.S. Military are enlisting military working dogs in record numbers. After all, military working dogs are still required for "sniffing out" land mines to security deployment, to "dropping in" on Osama Bin Laden.
A story in Military Times by Michelle Tan points out that military dogs have proven so valuable that two new programs — one in the Army and the other in the Marine Corps — will be funded for the next two years to put more dogs on the front lines alongside those who patrol Afghanistan’s treacherous hills and valleys.
But the increasing reliance on the abilities of these highly trained dogs also means an increasing number dogs will be killed or wounded in the line of duty, or simply - at some point - retire. Then what happens to the dogs?
Since May 2010, 14 military working dogs have been killed in action. Six others have been wounded, and three are missing in action, according to Central Command.
In addition, incidents of canine post-traumatic stress disorder are on the rise. When this condition was first identified, some laughed. But dogs ARE emotional beings, who share neurotransmitters with people. So, it truly shouldn't be a surprise.
My hope is that the military will also increasingly give credit where credit is due, and also understand and acquiesce to the human/animal bond.
Seven Afghans died in an insurgent attack on September 8, 2011 near a Marine battalion headquarters in southern Afghanistan. Sgt. Kenneth Fischer and his dog, Drak, were flown by helicopter to a bigger base for emergency treatment, then out of the country for surgery, according to a Yahoo News! report (with AP). Both Fischer and Dak will head to Texas for rehabilitation, and eventually Fischer will adopt Drak and take him home.
Soldiers must be given an opportunity to return home with their best friends, not only is that fair - it's in the best interest of both the solder and the dog's mental health. At one time (in recent memory) the military cared little about mental health of the canines. At least there's increased awareness of the the bond soldiers develop with their dogs.
"I have literally spent more time with Drak than I have my own daughter," Fischer, 27, said by telephone earlier this week from his hospital bed at a military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland with Yahoo. The Marine had worked with 4-year-old Drak for two years and spent a total of nine months in Afghanistan. His daughter, Cheyenne, is 19 months old.
The union between man and dog in a combat zone seems is so cohesive it's almost beyond description. Handlers and canines that sniff for explosives or narcotics patrol together, day after day, linked by a leash and an innate understanding of each other. Often, they sleep side by side in military cots. They face the same dangers together. Put simply, their lives literally depend on one another.
The American Humane Association's nod to military working dogs is assigning Rin Tin Tin, an original military dog, a role as "ambassadog," as well as honoring contemporary military working dogs at the Hero Dog Awards.
Tags: American Humane Associaiton, bomb sniffing dogs, dogs saving lives, Hero Dog Awards, human animal bond, Military Times, military working dogs, mine detecting dogs, narcotic detrecting dogs, Rin Tin Tin, Robin Ganzert, security dogs, Steve Dale archives, Susan Orlean