DALLAS, Texas–Whether they are being used to sniff out bombs, detect trip wire, or serve sentry duty, dogs have been employed in war as far back as ancient Egyptian times.
As both an offensive and defensive force in wartime, about 3,000 dogs are deployed with American forces around the world, according to CBS Dallas in March of 2013. Most of these dogs are Dutch and German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers. They are trained in bomb detection, “controlled aggression” for patrolling, or guard duty in the US Military.
These dogs are the reason why countless soldiers are still alive, said Debbie Kandoll, executive director of Military Working Dog Adoptions in an interview with CBS Dallas.
When “Robby’s Law” passed in 2000, the Department of Defense was required to immediately terminate the “practice of euthanizing military working dogs” and to “facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by law enforcement agencies, former handlers of these dogs, and other persons capable of caring for these dogs.”
Each year, about 300 “veteran dogs” are retired and go up for adoption. Ninety percent of those who return from war are adopted by their handlers, but some dogs go up for civilian adoption as well.
The 341st Training Squadron at the Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, TX, is responsible for providing “trained military working dogs and handlers for the Department of Defense,” but they also handle the adoption of “MWD’s” – Military Working Dogs.
The program is popular – and there is a waitlist of 12-18 months, even though many of the adoptable dogs are old, and may require medication for the rest of their lives, said the 341st Training Squadron adoption information. According to the Los Angeles Times, in an article published in November of 2012, the strength of the relationship between handlers and military dogs is legendary.
“Dogs experience combat just like humans,” Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas Gehring, a dog handler assigned to the canine training facility at Lackland Air Force Base, told LA Times in 2012.
Now, there is even a disorder possible for dogs who suffer the stress of war: canine post-traumatic stress disorder. The LA Times said that dogs, like humans, can benefit from “treatment for PTSD, including conditioning, retraining and possibly medication such as the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.”
During World War I, dogs helped the Red Cross find wounded men on the battlefields, but the American K-9 Corps really began in World War II, when thousands of dogs were donated by civilians to patrol shorelines, said Michael Lemish, a military dog historian to CNN in February of 2010.
The Vietnam War was a dark mark in MWD’s history: only about 200 of the 4,900 working dogs ever made it home, CNN said. The rest were either “euthanized or turned over to the South Vietnamese — left behind, a surplus of war.”
None of the dogs are euthanized now, in the US. However, the Ministry of Defense in the UK is different. The death of 288 military dogs in the last three years as raised an outcry from animal organizations and the public, according to the Daily Express of the UK. The armed forces said that every effort is made to re-home the dogs after they are no longer able to work.
The Express said that “in the same three-year period that 288 military dogs were destroyed while 318 were found new homes.” The dogs are studied by a military veterinarian and its handler before a decision is made. The dogs that served the Ministry of Defense must be behaviorally and medically in good shape before they can be adopted.