Did you know that the United States has been using military working dogs since the Revolutionary War? They were first used as equipment pack animals but throughout the years have offered their services as drug and explosives detectors, messengers, sentries, and scouts.
During the time of World War II thousands of families in America offered their dogs for enlistment in the US military – the K-9 Corps – once it became known that the armed forces of the United States needed dogs.
Service dogs are used today in Iraq, Afghanistan and in any area of the US military where needed. The breeds most commonly used are Shepherds and Labradors although Dobermans were also once a preferred breed trained for war.
A Famous Dog Loses His Medal
One of the most famous military working dogs was Chips, a Shepherd mix from Pleasantville, NY, offered by his family to serve during WWII. Chips was trained to be a sentry dog and was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division unit – he served in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. Chips was incredibly brave – one can read story after story about his heroic efforts, and his most memorable act of valor occurred one day on a beach in Sicily. As he and his handler were crossing the beach, an enemy machine gun crew hidden in a pillbox attacked them. Chips broke free from his handler and dove into the pillbox and attacked the enemy gunmen, forcing them to surrender. For his military service, Chips was awarded the Silver Star for valor and a Purple Heart for his wounds. However, both awards were later revoked. Thankfully, in 1990, Disney made a movie called “Chips the War Dog” which was based on the life of this courageous dog and it enabled the world to recognize him as a hero despite the fact that his two medals had been taken away.
Now you’re probably wondering why they revoked the medals after such a heroic act?
Well, Chips’ bravery and awards had caught the attention of the press and unfortunately also the attention of the Commander of the Order of the Purple Heart. He complained to President Roosevelt and the War Department that by honoring Chips – a dog – they were demeaning all service men that had also been awarded a Purple Heart. Chips lost his metals but was given an honorable discharge and returned to his family in New York. But the story doesn’t end there…it has an ugly twist. Not for Chips, but for many of the other military dogs that have since served their country. You see, the “Chips” incident and subsequent debates about “dogs” receiving metals led to the decision that dogs did not have the right to be recognized for their bravery and heroic actions – yes it’s really true – and even worse – the military could now refer to these wonderful beings as “equipment”. If that isn’t bad enough… When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, the serving military dogs that were now classified as “equipment” were simply left behind! It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Over 4,000 service dogs were left in Vietnam. Many handlers tried their best to bring them back home but the military orders were firm – a big “NO”. Only about 200 made it back- and no one really knows what happened to the 4000 that were left there. Many were euthanized or handed over to the South Vietnamese Army. Many of these wonderful, loyal, dedicated animals that risked their lives for our country and our service men did not get to come home. But there is a great organization today working on behalf of these animals.
The United States War Dogs Association
In our research we found that the main organization working on behalf of service dogs is the United States War Dogs Association. A description of our canine heroes from their website: “It has been estimated that these courageous canine heroes saved over 10,000 lives during the conflict in Vietnam”. Today all branches of our Armed Forces are utilizing Military Patrol Dogs specializing in Drug and Bomb/Explosive detection. There are approximately 600-700 of these canines in the Middle East in such places as Kuwait, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. They are being used to patrol Air Bases, Military Compounds, Ammunition Depots and Military Check Points. They are guarding and protecting our Military Personnel as they were trained to do, with Courage, Loyalty and Honor. “ Personally, we wish they had chosen another name – other than “war dogs” to describe the organization and the animals that serve… In fact, the correct term for these animals is Military Working Dogs and not war dogs. Many call them the “soldier you don’t know.
Here are some of the activities of the association:
- Service dogs now receive verbal accolades and recognition for their services and there are associations such as the U.S. War Dog Association that in 2006 had a beautiful sculpture of a military dog and handler completed in New Jersey. However, the association had to raise most of the funds for this on its own.
- The U.S. War Dogs Association continues to work on other ways to honor these service animals. For example it petitioned the US Postal Service to have a commemorative stamp for military working dogs.
- This association helps find loving homes for retired military and police dogs and the military does have a retirement program for their canines.
- Military dogs can now be allowed to retire early and be adopted by their handlers following an injury.
- This organization works tirelessly to send care packages to the military working service dogs and their handlers overseas.
This year, in honor of Memorial Day (also known as “Decoration Day”) and for Chips and all the other unrecognized canine heroes, BARF World will make a charitable donation to the United States War Dogs Association. We decided to do this in lieu of another discount coupon to you and we hope you agree. Let’s be clear – while we don’t support war, we believe in the humane work that this organization does for these animals and their handlers and the necessity to recognize their heroism. If you’re interested in learning more about their activities, please visit Operation Military Care K-9 at: http://uswardogs.org/id40.html
Happy Memorial Day!
From all of the BARF World team, Lily, Rob, Amber, Christopher and Jose.
P.S. What do you think? Should dogs, in fact any animal, be allowed to receive a medal and recognition of the highest honor for their service and valor?
P.P.S. We are looking into writing an updated book about “Heroic Dogs” and their acts of bravery. Would you like to participate? If you happen to know of exceptionally heroic dogs, whether it is a service dog or your own pet, we would love to hear your stories.