With the news that a dog accompanied the soldiers which hunted down Osama Bin Laden, the use of dogs on combat missions has been in the news quite a lot the past few days.
(h/t Lynn for the following link)
This amazing photo is from the Foreign Policy magazine photo essay called War Dog. Rebecca Frankel, the author of the article, writes a weekly column about war dogs and when I started reading them, like potato chips, I couldn't stop at just one.
Here's an excerpt from A soldier’s last words by Frankel:
For the 22-year-old Lance Cpl. William "Billy" H. Crouse IV, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, was the site of first tour of duty -- for his bomb-sniffing dog Cane, it was the third. Only a few weeks had passed when, on Dec. 21, 2010 during a routine patrol with their Marine team, the pair encountered a roadside bomb -- both dog and handler were hit.
... while being lifted into the medevac the wounded handler had the emotional wherewithal to insist the soldiers around him to save his dog.
"'Get Cane in the Blackhawk!' Crouse cried out before losing consciousness."
Apparently, those were his last words. Neither Crouse nor Cane survived.
And here's another about Theo, a bomb sniffing dog:
Last week I came across a British Ministry of Defence article about the record-holding bomb sniffing canine in Afghanistan, Theo, a springer spaniel just 22 months old. He and his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were so good at their job -- detecting 14 IEDS and weapons caches in only five months -- that the British Army extended their tour in Helmand Province.
Theo and Tasker were in headlines again yesterday, hundreds of times over in fact, but there was no such happy news this time. During a routine patrol on Tuesday their unit was ambushed by Taliban sniper fire and Tasker was mortally wounded. Though Theo survived the attack unscathed, he died mere hours later. The details on the cause of Theo's death are fuzzy: A few reports are saying the dog succumbed to stress from the attack, others say it was a seizure, and some are saying the explanation is far more plain -- a broken heart.
It's not always sad news, however, and one article, Is there a canine retirement plan?, talks about what happens to the dogs who make it to retirement.
"Every now and then you run into one that you just bond with...If she had gone full tour, maybe nine years in service and she was old and ready to be adopted that's when I was hoping to get her, but now that's happened a lot sooner, I'm very glad, " Reynolds said. "It was my intent to have her a week after I started training her. The bond was there a week after I had her."
What comes across immediately from all of the stories is the bond that is established between the soldier and his dog. These dogs are no longer considered mere instruments of war to be used and discarded but are fully comrades in arms.
Thousands of war dogs have been used in the U.S. military for decades now and so it's surprising to learn it's only fairly recently that the no longer useful ones have been allowed to retire to a "civilian" life.
From the scoutdogpages.com post, Thirty years after Vietnam, the battle to end routine killing of aging war dogs continues:
Last June, Robby, an eight-year-old military working dog who was cross-trained to perform both patrol and detection work, was beginning to suffer from progressive arthritis and elbow dysplasia. Because full-time duty was no longer possible, Robby was shipped back to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, home to the Military Working Dog Agency, where he faced "evaluation" for half-time duty training new handlers. If it was determined he couldn't even do this work, he was going to be euthanized, as was standing policy. Robby's handler pleaded with higher-ups to adopt the silver muzzled Belgian Malinois so he could enjoy a loving home for whatever quality time he had left. His request was denied.
Besides the terrible injustice done to the dogs, killing someone's loyal companion can't have been good for the morale of the soldiers who had partnered with the dogs.
In November 2000, after much public pressure, a bill was passed which allowed for decommissioned war dogs who were deemed suitable for family life, to be adopted out. Unfortunately, for Robby the Malinois, the implementation of the bill didn't happen quickly enough and he was euthanized at Lackland Air Force Base, where the Military Working Dog Agency is located, in January 2001.
Lackland Air Force Base has a dog adoption program set up now but it's hard to gauge how successful it is, and by successful I mean what percentage of retired war dogs it manages to place from the entire population of decommissioned war dogs.
There was the problem of war dogs being dumped overseas after they were no longer useful. This was a common occurrence in Viet Nam where thousands of dogs, after having faithfully served the U.S. military and survived the war, were considered surplus equipment and were left behind or euthanized.
From, Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, an article by Lisa Hoffman:
"They didn't get to come back home like we did. For them, (serving) was a death sentence," said former Air Force Sentry Dog handler Vance McCrumb, whose dog Dutch was put to sleep after McCrumb left Vietnam in 1966. That fate gnaws deep at the veterans who, to a man, say their bond with the dogs with whom they spent 24 hours a day for more than a year, facing death together was unlike what they forged before or since with anyone or anything.
It's better now but without official stats, I can't say by how much. There seems to still be a problem with transporting retired war dogs back from overseas.
From Military Working Dog Adoptions:
Retired MWDs have no “return to home station” benefits even though for the time of their service we proclaim them as bonafide “military members”. As it now stands, retired OCONUS (OVERSEAS) MWDs must be transported at adoptive owner’s expense as a “pet”! In an August 28, 2009, article, Air Force Major General Mary Kay Hertog clarified why adopters must bear the brunt of transport for adopted dogs returning from overseas. "Once that dog is adopted, it becomes a pet, and therefore loses its MWD status," she explained. "So it would be fraud, waste and abuse for the DOD to transport that pet. "
(As a bit of a sidenote, I came across a charity which calls itself the SPCA International which purportedly raises money for the transport of war dogs home from the Middle East. The SPCAI, however, has links with some questionable characters from the old Montreal SPCA and many people consider it a scam.)
And finally, to sum up, here's a great little movie on the history of U.S. war dogs narrated by a bunch of kids which quite reminds me of a Charlie Brown cartoon.