May people may not know that the Military War Dog, or Military Working Dog (MWD), is a canine that has been trained to protect humans in dangerous situations. March 13th has been designated as K9 Veterans Day. This is a special day to honor these unique members of the military. Dogs have been apart of military campaigns for centuries. Documentation of their use in wartime dates as far back as the mid-7th century BC.
During WWI, the US military began to utilize dogs for message delivery between troops. The need for military dogs became so great that American families began to donate their dogs to the war effort. It has been estimated that approximately 1,000,000 dogs were killed in action during WWI. Dogs were reported to have performed acts of bravery and heroism during combat. One such dog was Sergeant Stubby.
Sergeant Stubby was purported to be both the most decorated war dog of WWI, and the only dog to be nominated and promoted to the rank of sergeant through combat. Stubby was smuggled overseas by Corporal Robert Conroy. He served with Corporal Conroy and the 102nd Infantry Regiment for a total of 18 months. During this time, Stubby participated in four offensives and 17 battles. Though he was injured several times, Stubby always managed to recover and return to the front lines to help the regiment.
One such injury was the result of a mustard gas attack. After Stubby recovered, he was outfitted with a specially designed gas mask so he could return to the trenches and rejoin his regiment. Stubby also learned to help his unit and warn them of impending danger. He was able to give warning of poison gas attacks, locate wounded soldiers, and alert his unit to incoming artillery shells. The feat that supposedly earned Stubby the rank of sergeant occurred when he captured a German spy and held him by the seat of his pants until US soldiers arrived. Although there is no official documentary evidence for this claim, Stubby’s display at the Smithsonian Institution promotes the story as true.
With the creation of the United States K9 Corps on March 13, 1942, dogs were officially adopted into US military ranks during WWII. The Army’s Dogs for Defense program trained 10,000 dogs who were again donated to the war effort by American families. Upon completion of training, MWDs were deployed to several places both at home and abroad. During the Vietnam War, about 5,000 MWDs served in-country, and roughly 10,000 servicemen served as dog handlers. Scout dogs were reported to have saved about 10,000 lives, and MWDs 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 the year 2000, there were no protections in place to ensure MWDs could have a safe life after military service. 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. MWDs were viewed as “surplus equipment,” with no value beyond the military purpose they were trained to carry out. This changed when the story of an MWD named Robby entered public awareness. Robby’s former handler petitioned to adopt him after he was retired from service as an MWD. This request was denied for unspecified reasons, and Robby was euthanized.
On September 27, 2000, Representative Roscoe Bartlet introduced a bill to help change the fate of MWDs like Robby. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in November of 2000. Robby’s Law required that all MWDs deemed to be suitable for adoption should be available for placement after retirement from service. The law also gave priority for adoption of retired MWDs to law enforcement agencies or former handlers, and then “other persons capable of humanely caring for these dogs.”
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 MWDs may no longer be deemed “equipment.” It requires the Department of Defense to arrange and “…pay for transportation of trained military dogs back to the United States,” when they retire from service while deployed abroad.
Today, there are approximately 3,000 MWDs deployed all over the globe and work in a variety of law enforcement capacities, including the military, US Customs, Border Patrol, police K9 units, and federal law enforcement. Today, K9 units are used for sniffing out improvised explosive devices, locating weapons caches down-range, and guarding against the entry of illegal narcotics or substances into military installations. With their superior sense of smell, K9s can also be used as “scouts” to track down suspects in an open area, saving law enforcement personnel much time and energy during operations.
Dogs that are part of the Military War Dog program train with the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Candidate dogs must undergo intensive screening and training in order to serve. They are exposed to a variety of simulated war scenarios that include explosions, fires, machine gun and rifle fire. Candidate dogs must also scale walls, navigate underground tunnels, and climb ladders without show of hesitation or distress. Once chosen and screened, each MWD is then given a unique specialty based on specific abilities and strengths. Once assigned a specialty, the 341st then ships MWDs to military installations worldwide.
Elko Veterinary Clinic is very excited this year to celebrate America’s patriotic puppers on this K9 Veterans Day. We believe that our furry friend are awesome but those dogs who have been trained to serve our country are even more heroic. In order to honor and help these heroes Elko Veterinary Clinic will be donating $2 from every wellness exam from the entire month of March to veterinary bills for the organization K9 Hero Haven (http://www.k9herohaven.org/). We are excited to be veterinarians helping veteran K9s! This is a volunteer based organization that helps to transition these dogs to retirement. They try if possible to reunite the dogs with their handlers. They work to educate the public on the roles that these dogs play in our world and highlight the level of training and dedication to service which goes into these K9 heroes to help keep us safe.