When the news came out a few weeks ago that the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, Americans took pride in knowing that our military has neutralized yet another dangerous threat to the world. We also learned that a crucial member of the Special Forces team that took down the ISIS leader in a dark tunnel was a brave Belgian Malinois named Conan. This military dog cornered Baghdadi who then detonated his explosive vest.
Conan, who has been part of 50 missions during four years working with Special Forces and will soon be honored at the White House, is part of a long line of courageous canines that are recognized as “critical members of our forces,” according to Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command.
Working dogs have been an important part of the Armed Forces for more than a century, serving as messengers and enemy detection agents since the trenches of World War I and battlefields of World War II. These days, dogs are one of the best methods of identifying improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and are often part of Special Operations raids, such as the one that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
One story that’s stuck with me was the true tale of Chips, a dog who was awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart after being wounded while saving the lives of many troops during a World War II firefight. Afterward, he returned home to his family, but they reported that Chips seemed a changed pup, telling The New York Times: “He doesn’t seem to wag his tail as much as before going to war.”
Turns out man’s best friend isn’t all that different than us.
That’s why I encourage Americans to recognize the service and sacrifice of military dogs this Veterans Day, while we honor the brave men and women who have served our country.
My organization has experience in this arena. American Humane has worked to support animals in the military for more than a century, starting in World War I when we rescued and cared for 68,000 wounded war horses each month. Today, we continue that commitment by protecting military dogs on and off the battlefield. We help reunite retired military dogs with their former handlers, work to provide them healthcare, and seek to honor their heroic contributions.
Perhaps our most impactful military program, Pups4Patriots™, trains dogs to become service animals for veterans with post traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). There is an alarming crisis among our military men and women, with more than 6,000 service-members and veterans committing suicide every year.
A growing body of research shows that specially trained service dogs can reduce stress and anxiety levels, mitigate depression, ease social reintegration, provide comfort, and restore confidence in those affected by these invisible wounds of war.
It is why my organization has called on the Veterans Administration to include the utilization of service dogs.
Veterans seeking service dogs are often met with bureaucratic and financial obstacles, but our free-of-charge program streamlines the process and provides grants to help them obtain and care for their dog. We oversee intensive hands-on training sessions for qualified dogs and create an environment to help vets and dogs bond. In doing so, we better lives on both ends of the leash.
This Veterans Day, let’s look for ways to recognize and support all our retired service members — both two-legged and four-legged.