Hero Dogs

National Geographic's "Hero Dog" article on their June 2014 cover almost had me in tears. It was an article about a military handler and his dog and his struggle that ended up taking both of his legs.

The training of a military dog begins at birth.  Their days are regimented, the dogs are released only at allotted hours for food and water, exercise and training. It's during these training sessions that the marines evaluate what role a dog is best suited for: patrol, detection, or tracking. 

Certain dog breeds generally do better than others on the battlefield, such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and specially the Belgian Malinois, which is known for being fearless, driven, and able to handle the heat. Sadly though, many dogs that serve in the military saving American lives are never brought home. In Vietnam an estimated 4000 canines were used to lead jungle patrols, saving numerous lives. Nevertheless, the military decided to leave many behind when the U.S. pulled out. This is terribly sad and something we can only hope changes completely as a handler forms a life bond with his dog.

Out in front of America’s troops, combat canines and their handlers lead the way onto the most dangerous battlefields on Earth.

The age-old bond between man an dog is the essence of our fascination with these teams: The human reliance on superior animal senses-- dogs are up to 100,000 times more alert to smells than humans are. The selflessness and loyalty of handler and dog in putting themselves in harm's way -- one wittingly and one unwittingly-- to save lives.

In general, the military bureaucracy regards a working dog as a piece of equipment. "Dogs are like toddlers, they need to be told what to do. They need to know their primary drives -- oxygen, food, water-- are taken care of." The handler always has to be the Alpha. For a dog, searching for an IED is a game-- identify a scent and get a toy. Not so much for the handler, who knows his life, the dogs life and the lives of many other soldiers who depend on him are on the line.

No formal program exists in the military to reunite dogs with their injured handlers, and some of those handlers have found the process inscrutable and frustrating at a time when they needed clarity. If a handler is finally able to adopt his military dog, he bridges the three worlds the personal was before, during and now after they are home. A bond of friendship that is unlike any other.

Read the article here:  Hero Dogs
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