2012 was a year that brought overdue recognition to our four legged troupes! Our military dogs perform tasks no human or machine can do, and they do so with fierce courage, dedication, and strength. An estimated 2,300 working dogs serve in the Department of Defense. Along with their handlers, they are deployed worldwide to support the war on terror, safeguard military bases, and detect bombs and other explosive devices.

It was an emotional moment at this year’s Rose Parade when a special float, Dogs for Defense, cruised by. Parade attendees rose to their feet to honor these courageous military service dogs and their veteran handlers. Many folks wiped away tears. One gentleman on board the float was World War II veteran, 86-year-old Marine Robert Harr. Harr trained the most decorated war dog who served in the Pacific during that conflict, a German Shepherd named Oki. Back then the dogs were left behind to an unknown fate, so Harr bravely smuggled Oki back home to the United States and kept him as a pet.

Natural Balance Pet Foods sponsored this “courageous canines” float. During the preparations at the Rose Parade warehouse, all the volunteers paused from their flower clipping when one special hero dog named Lucca arrived. Lucca, a German Shepherd-Malinois mix, hopped curiously toward a group of waiting children. The dog’s head dipped from the weight of her body, no longer supported by her amputated left leg. Lucca is a veteran of military combat deployments, one of thousands of dogs trained to sniff out booby traps, deliver messages, and track enemies. Lucca led over 200 missions in Afghanistan with no Marines ever injured under her patrol. Corporal Juan Rodriguez accompanied Lucca on the float. Rodriguez recalls how he owes his life to Lucca when she sniffed out a booby trap, setting off a bomb that injured her leg. Today Lucca lives in happy retirement with her first handler.

A decade ago, Lucca’s fate would have included a sad and thankless ending. Back then service dogs were euthanized or left behind overseas after their faithful service, considered not much more than “government equipment”. In 2000, President Clinton signed a law allowing retired soldiers and civilians to adopt service dogs after their deployment. These canine heroes are finally receiving the acknowledgement and treatment they deserve.

2012 brought recognition to another retired military dog named Gabe. Gabe was named American Hero Dog of 2012 at the American Humane Association hero dog awards in Los Angeles. This amazing animal completed over 200 combat missions in Iraq. Gabe spent several years sniffing out insurgent bombs and guns in Iraq with his handler Sergeant Chuck Shuck. Shuck stated, “Winning the award was an amazing feeling because I know that many soldiers were going to benefit from the $15,000 we just won. Looking out at the crowd, who gave Gabe a standing ovation, was also amazing. Seeing Betty White and many other celebrities honor Gabe was a moment I will never forget.”

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The history of dogs going to war can be traced back to ancient times when large Mastiff type breeds were strapped with armor and spiked collars and sent into battle to attack the enemy. The Soviet army used dogs to drag wounded men to aid stations in WWII. Another interesting use of dogs involved delivering messages during battles. These deliveries required the dog to have great loyalty to two handlers as it relayed messages back and forth. Many of the dogs used today for both the military and law enforcement are trained at Lackland Air Force base in Texas.

Military dogs were in the news again in 2012 when the Senate passed an amendment for Fiscal Year 2013 Military Activities (Sen. 3254), establishing a system to provide free veterinary care for retired military dogs. These dogs served our country, along with the men and women in uniform, and should not be discarded afterward along with unneeded equipment. Many of these hero dogs need surgery from war inflicted wounds. Others are older and may need medication in their senior years.

War dogs have some of the qualities of angels. Both are messengers, protectors and loyal friends. They are specially trained to aid our military personnel in the most dangerous war torn parts of the world. Finally they are receiving the appreciation they so deserve. A national monument will soon feature the four breeds of dogs commonly used by the military, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Labrador Retrievers, and Malinois. Intelligent, loving, loyal…..our canine friends are amazing creatures who play many roles to help humans.

jmcafee7@verizon.net

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