K9 Veterans Day

“The guard dog was incorruptible; the police dog dependable; the messenger dog reliable. The human watchman might be bought; not so the dog. The soldier sentinel might fall asleep; never the dog. The battlefield runner might fail … but not the dog, to his last breath would follow the line of duty.”

-Ernest Harold Baynes, Animal Heroes of the Great War

K9 Veterans is an unofficial day designated to honour the many dogs who are members of the military.  This year we recognize our 4-legged team members on March 13th.  The partnership between man and dog has been documented for centuries and use of dogs in wartime dates as far back as the mid-7th century.  The United States K9 Corp was created on March 13, 1942 when dogs were officially adopted into US military ranks during WWII. The Army’s Dogs for Defense program trained 10,000 dogs who were donated to the war effort by American families.  During the Vietnam war about 5,000 dogs served in-country, and roughly 10,000 servicemen served as dog handlers. Scout dogs were reported to have saved about 10,000 lives, and military dogs were so successful at their jobs that bounties of up to $20,000 were placed on their heads. It was also reported that 232 MWDs and 295 dog handlers were killed in action.

Prior to 2000, there were no protections in place to ensure that dogs serving in the military would have a safe life when their tour was finished.  For example, of the approximately 5,000 MWDs the United States used in Vietnam, roughly 2,700 were left in South Vietnam, 1,600 of which were euthanized. Military dogs were viewed as “surplus equipment,” with no value beyond the military purpose they were trained to carry out. www.militarybenefits.com  History changed when public awareness was focused on a military dog named Robby.  Robby’s handler wanted to adopt his K9 companion when he was retired from service and his request was denied for reasons unknown and Robby was euthanized.  The publicity around this sad outcome brought about President Bill Clinton signing the bill known as Robby’s Law which required that all military dogs deemed to be suitable for adoption should be available for placement after retirement from service.  On June 1, 2015, the Military Dog Retirement Bill, a bill sponsored by Representative Walter Jones, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and the US War Dog Association was introduced. It passed by both the Senate and the House, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. This law stipulates that dogs serving in the military may no longer be deemed “equipment.”

Canada’s special forces, too, have been quietly building up their canine units in recent years. They just don’t like to talk about it.

Canada, like many countries, has a long history of using dogs, horses and even carrier pigeons in war. That includes the use of sniffer dogs in Afghanistan to find improvised explosive devices, which were responsible for the majority of Canadian deaths during the decade-long mission.

As integral as those dogs were considered to the Canadian war effort in Afghanistan, they were owned and handled by contractors hired by the military specifically for the task — contracts that expired when the mission ended.

The military’s experience with dogs wasn’t over, however. In fact, it was just beginning, said Capt. Jamie Donovan of Canadian Special Forces Command.

“Canadian special forces gleaned much from allies in Afghanistan in the employment of canines in support of special-operations forces, and were themselves using canines on operations by the end of that mission, Following Afghanistan and since 2012, we’ve aimed to further develop and sustain a canine capability within the command.” www.cbc.ca

Regardless of which side of the border these 4-legged heroes work for they have the same temperaments in common: bold, confident attitude, no signs of shyness or over-aggression and the ability to work with people, a strong drive to hunt and retrieve and an ‘implicit ability’ to fight if required.  They were also forbidden from showing any fear of water, any propensity to bite their handler during stressful moments, and needed to “show no fear and not be distracted by unsure footing, tight and/or dark enclosed spaces, moving vehicles and loud noises, including gunfire.

Lest dog lovers out there worry the Canadian military has been secretly sending dogs into battle without the proper equipment, public records show the government has bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of protective vests for its canine units over the last few years.

The government has also quietly spent around $500,000 on more than a dozen custom-fitted vests for the military’s canine units that include video cameras and receivers that let handlers see and hear what their dogs are experiencing in the field.

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