The dogs left back home
The continued withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan has thrust dogs into the spotlight of the evening news and the world of viral videos. Not just any dogs—these are the loyal, can't-wait-for-master-to-come-home pets that soldiers left behind when they were called up for service. And if there was ever any doubt that dogs have enduring memories and a sense of longing, these stories put them to rest. It's no wonder that videos like this and this (and don't forget this one), have been seen by millions on YouTube and the evening news.
But what was life like for those dogs while their owners were overseas? Some were lucky enough to stay at home with family members who remained stateside. However, some dogs needed foster families to care for them in the interim. That's the job of the organization Guardian Angels for Soldiers Pets. Their mission is to support the men and women who serve by finding temporary homes for their pets. It's reassuring for people in the military to know that, while they are halfway around the world, their dear pets are being cared for back in the United States by loving families.
Once the soldiers are reunited with their pets, it's time for the dogs to do one of the great things that make dogs so amazing: help their soldier—owners heal from the emotional toll of serving in wartime. This is the type of real-life situation in which family dogs, by virtue of their devotion and love, perform like their specially trained brethren—the canines we call "therapy dogs."
The dogs that serve
The broad category of service dogs—which includes seeing-eye dogs, dogs that assist handicapped people, police dogs, and therapy dogs—also includes dogs that serve. These are specially trained "soldier dogs" that share military responsibilities with the men and women in uniform. These combat-tested professional canines perform a wide range of duties, some of which are highly specialized. These include sniffing out bombs and crowd control. But above and beyond those specific jobs, they also provide loyal and loving companionship for their human counterparts.
Bringing them back from the front
The bond between soldiers and soldier dogs is deep and lasting, which is why many homebound service men and women attempt to adopt the dogs they've worked with on the front lines. Red tape and high expenses can make these stateside reunions difficult. A scan of the newspapers each week reveals stories that range from the touching to the tragic.
While serving, soldiers also become attached to the local dogs they find and raise. And, they inevitably discover, bringing these dogs to the United States is no easy task. The soldiers behind Operation Bring Blanco Home even started a PayPal account to help raise the necessary funds to transport Blanco from Afghanistan to Arizona.
The SPCA's Operation Baghdad Pups is a related effort that rescues dogs from intolerable conditions in Iraq for a better life in this country. A recent blog from the organization states, "Operation Baghdad Pups just wrapped up our 111th mission to Iraq, saving 17 more dogs from a certain life of pain and suffering had we not gotten them to safety in the United States."
The first soldier dog
During World War I, American soldiers serving in France could be seen saluting Sergeant Stubby. There's nothing unusual about saluting a higher-ranking officer, but Stubby was a dog. Stubby's owner, a soldier named James Robert Conroy, smuggled his beloved pet aboard the transport ship SS Minnesota, which is how this remarkable dog came to serve in the trenches. Stubby helped lift the morale of his human soldier buddies during a grueling 18 months at the front. Among his feats of heroism, Stubby warned his comrades of poison gas attacks and, thanks to his keen hearing, was able to locate wounded pals in the no-man's land between the trenches. No wonder he was saluted by appreciative soldiers of every rank.
It was during World War II, however, when the United States military officially began a canine program. The success of that initiative was the foundation for the continued use of dogs in combat. Today, we don't even think twice when we hear about the heroism and moral-building power of military dogs. It's become a matter of routine, something we take for granted. But it's worth pausing for a moment to consider how vital dogs have become to us in our daily lives, whether we're soldiers or civilians. From the backyard to the battlefield, the human-canine connection is stronger than ever.