A dog’s ability to protect and serve truly makes them suitable for military life. Since 1942, K9s have played a huge role in battles as companions of their human comrades. Army K-9 corps members have taken a bullet, detected explosives, served deployments, and gained injuries while on a mission. Some of them have been properly recognized, including Sallie, Stubby, Gabe, Lucca, and Chips. The list of heroic four-legged military members goes on, and every one of them deserves to be celebrated. Proper recognition for their hard work and dedication is yet to be given in some cases. Recently, a veteran-run charity started a heartwarming gesture to ensure that K9s are acknowledged before retirement.
Handlers, trainers, support staff, and families attended the celebration of K9 Veterans Day at Washington D.C.’s Navy Memorial Plaza. The program commenced with United States Secret Service K-9 Handler Beth Hartman’s rendition of The National Anthem. It was followed by a prayer from retired Sergeant Al Brenner of the United States Marine Corps. Afterward, retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant Chris Willingham gave a speech as the president of the United States War Dogs Association. He also contributed most of his career to the Military Working Dog Program.
“K9 Veterans Day is here to celebrate the beginning of the K9 Corps, which was March 13, 1942,” Willingham said. “It started with ‘Dogs for Defense,’ who would train and procure the dogs for military service. From that point on, they (military K9s) have proven to be a force multiplier in every climb and place. Whether it’s the island-hopping campaigns of World War II, the frozen tundras of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, or the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, if there are troops on the ground, the K9 has a mission.” The USWDA was organized by five dog handlers who all served in Vietnam. Military dogs participated in scouting missions, sentry duty, mine and tunnel detections, and water patrols at that time.
Aside from those missions, K9s were praised for their impeccable skills in detecting improvised explosive devices. Military dogs cannot be replaced, mainly when properly trained for sniffing out threats. Despite the admirable service during battles, K9s were not acknowledged as soldiers. They were given ranks by the Defense Department and were only seen as equipment — like a weapon waiting to be used. Back then, Army dogs were sometimes euthanized or abandoned on the battlefield. Thankfully, in November 2000, Robby’s Law was signed. It’s a bill that requires MWDs to be given up for adoption after retirement from service.
For this reason, USWDA does not only focus on K9 recognition, they also aim to provide the most comfortable retirement for them. It’s challenging to find new families for retired military dogs, especially if they are without pensions or medical insurance. The handler or the adopter usually shoulders all expenses, which is often a struggle. Retired military dogs require medical assistance, mainly when they have complications such as canine PTSD or bodily injuries. Another difficulty is that transporting the dog abroad can be quite costly. USWDA’s mission is to lend support by preparing necessary equipment and supplying care packages to dog teams overseas. Moreover, they’ll help in transporting veteran K9s to the US for retirement, treatment, and well-deserved recognition.
Veterinary care for illnesses and injuries will also be covered by USWDA, including free prescription drug programs and financial assistance for vet bills. Service awards await as well, and they’ll be given one final salute — courtesy of USWDA’s Rainbow Bridge Assistance Program. The charity will assist in finding loving homes for retired military dogs. They are entitled to have a family that will fully commit to providing them with the most comfortable life. Their new companions can either be their handlers or a new family. The whole mission and vision of USWDA are undeniably inspiring and touching — a good life surely awaits the courageous four-legged fighters. Learn more about the USWDA here.Whizzco