Pet column: Assuring recognition and care for military war dogs |

Pet column: Assuring recognition and care for military war dogs

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Through the ages, history depicts man’s best friend loyal and true on the battlefield as well as in the field and home. The canine remains “top dog” for alerting, attacking, and — critical in today’s IED filled battle environment — smelling. Progress has been made to enable adoption and retirement rather than euthanasia or abandonment of canine veterans, however, the brave, sentient beings remain classified as “equipment” by the military. Reclassification was omitted from the revised Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act when it passed in the Senate. Co-sponsors Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and the United States War Dog Association of trainers and handlers and their supporters vow to continue to work for reclassification to provide for the well being and individual recognition of canine soldiers.

A precedent-setting event will take place in October when the National Monument honoring Military Working Dog Teams of all U.S. Armed Services and of all Wars since World War II will be dedicated at Lackland Air Force Base Military Working Dog Training Center, San Antonio, Texas. Initiated in 2007 by retired Military War Dog handler John Burnam, legislation for a National Monument for Military Working Dog Teams was sponsored by U.S. Congressman Walter B. Jones, North Carolina. Burnam explains: “My passion for a national monument to honor America’s military working dogs and handlers derived from having served in the U.S. Army infantry as a German Shepherd Scout Dog Hander. I had the honor of handling Scout Dogs Timber and Clipper, and a Sentry Dog named Hans during the Vietnam War (1966-68). It was only after I published my own story in ‘Dog Tags of Courage’ followed by ‘A Soldier’s Best Friend’ that I had a driving interest in researching the history of America’s use of dogs in War.”

With the exception of a few sledge dogs in Alaska, America was the only country to take part in World War I with no military service dogs. American troops used borrowed French and British trained dogs in combat. Not until World War II did the United States Armed Forces determine that a military dog recruitment and training program was needed. However, the first true American war dog did participate in WWI. He was a stray adopted by a soldier in training named Robert Conroy. “Stubby” the bull terrier was smuggled into combat by Corporal Conroy, served 18 months, participated in 17 battles and created headlines. Stubby saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, located and comforted the wounded, and most famously caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. Upon return from active duty, Stuffy was received by presidents Harding and Coolidge. General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces, presented Stubby with a gold medal and declared him to be a “hero of the highest caliber.” Stubby toured the country, led parades and was promoted to honorary sergeant, becoming the highest ranking dog to ever serve in the Army. He was made an honorary member of the American Red Cross, the American Legion and the YMCA, which issued him a lifetime membership card good for “three bones a day and a place to sleep.” Stubby was instrumental in inspiring the creation of the United States ‘K-9 Corps’ in time for World War ll.

Every size and type of dog has served in the Armed Forces. They are trained for an ever widening variety of tasks. The conditions under which they perform range from arctic ice to desert sand. Through time, no technology can match their skill or their heart.

Detailed accounts of the history and MWD job descriptions up to the present day are available on the U.S. Army web site and the United States War Dog Association web site. There are links including “Dogs and National Defense” by Anna M. Waller, 1958, Department of the Army Office of the Quartermaster General and “The Quiet Americans: A History of Military Working Dogs”, 2000, by Staff Sargeant Tracy L. English, Office of History 37th Training Wing Lackland AFB, Texas. Additional reading on the subject includes “Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs” by Lisa Rogak, along with her articles as a contributor for the Huffington Post, and “Soldier Dogs” by Maria Goodavage.

— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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