Most of us know little about a very important day in May -Armed Forces Day. A time set aside to honor those who serve our nation (the third Saturday in May every year). This day is a remembrance of everyone serving in the military…both two legged and four legged. Until the now- famous Navy SEAL Team Six raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound several years ago, very few people even realized that dogs are a vital part of the military, but these four-legged heroes have saved tens of thousands of lives since World War Two , when the United States embarked on its military working dog program.

Maria Goodavage learned the importance of war dogs from her father, and has written a book Soldier Dogs…the untold story of America’s Canine Heroes, relating heartwarming stories of modern soldier dogs and the amazing bonds that develop between them and their handlers. (Book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble). Goodavage is excited to find that people are starting to take notice of the incredible dogs and their handlers who serve in the Military, and she offers 10 things she feels that everyone should know about soldier dogs.

  1. Soldier dogs are selected for the military based partly on their love of a ball or a Kong. This reward, along with the handler’s heartfelt prize, is part of their training and “paycheck” for years to come.
  2. Soldier dogs believe in magic. One of the most important jobs for military dogs today is sniffing out IEDs, and that dogs can learn to successfully learn the difference between an explosive and an interesting smelling rock has gotta be magic, right?
  3. The bond between a deployed handler and his dog is like no other. The love that even the toughest soldiers have for their canine comrades is awesome. They recognize that their very lives often depend on their dog, and hearing a war-hardened guy’s voice break when he talks about his best friend is an unforgettable experience.
  4. Not all soldier dogs are big, tough warriors. Sure breeds like German shepherds are the most common war dogs, but Labrador retrievers play a major role as sniffer dogs, and there are some very small dogs in the military. There are jack Russell terriers who are excellent sniffers. They might be small in size, but inside they are big dogs with big attitudes.
  5. Dogs are the ultimate anthropologists. They observe us. They study us. They smell changes in our very chemistry. They learn to predict us, and they seem to know when we are having a bad day.
  6. Some dogs really do jump from airplanes. Some dogs known as Multi-Purpose Canines (MPCs) are used in Special Operations teams. They are a small portion of the military dogs, but they serve a very important role.
  7. War dogs can get post traumatic stress disorder. Only recently has PTSD been officially recognized with canines as well as humans. Some are not badly scarred, but others are profoundly affected, and the military is seeking better solutions for both the humans and the dogs that are suffering from this disorder.
  8. Soldier dogs are sometimes given inappropriate names. Dogs are named by their breeders, and there are plenty of classy names like Nero, Rex, and Rocky. However, there are some really unfortunate names. Image being in a life-or-death situation and shouting names like “Baby Bear, or “Boo Boo.”
  9. When a military working dog dies, a memorial is held, his food and water bowls are turned upside down, and the harness and collar are hung up in remembrance of the dog.
  10. Sadly soldier dogs are considered equipment by the Defense Department. Most handlers consider their dogs their best friends, but to the DOD, military working dogs are still officially equipment. There is legislation in Congress that seeks to change that status – the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act.

The theme for Armed Forces Day 2016 is “Guardians of Freedom”, and we need to take time to thank our military members for their patriot service in support of our country. Without them, America would not be “The Land of the Free.”