A Day to Celebrate America’s Patriotic Pups
By: Brent Honcharenko
The initiative to recognize this day can be traced back over 80 years, when an organization called Dogs for Defense was founded to train dogs to be sentries for supply depots. Then, on March 13, 1942, the program was approved by the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Army K9 Corps was established.
Training dogs for military service is certainly nothing new. In fact, the practice can be mapped to ancient Egypt, as far back as 7000 – 4000 BC. The Saluki, a favorite breed of the Egyptian pharaohs, is a perfect example of this as they were used both in battle and for hunting. The admiration for these dogs is even recognized in hieroglyphics on tomb walls.
Fast-forward several millennium where it is documented that trained K9s assisted the U.S. Marine Corps in recapturing Pacific islands from enemy forces during WWII. This is also known as the Pacific Theater. During the Vietnam War, approximately 5,000 trained K9 scouts served alongside American troops. K9s remain an important part of the military and serve in many capacities. Some are guard and patrol dogs and some are trained specifically to locate explosives, mines and traps. Others are trained as transport, or pack, dogs.
In our local communities, municipal and state law enforcement agencies often have K9 officers on their forces. These K9s assist in criminal apprehensions and help locate contraband. K9s are also used by federal agencies at airports and at large events to help keep the public safe. Some special K9s are trained for emotional support and can help defuse a tense, escalating situation. While other K9s are simply used as good will ambassadors. Each plays a very special role.
K9’s are also very effectively trained and used for search and rescue missions, not only on snow-capped mountains after an avalanche but most notably at Ground Zero after 9/11 when the twin towers in New York City were destroyed. Several dogs from several agencies from all over the country were brought to the site and worked tirelessly to help find survivors as well as those who’d fallen. One witness said the dogs stood out like diamonds amid the rubble. Many of the 9/11 rescue K9s have since been recognized publically and even memorialized.
Surprisingly, however, prior to 2000, there were no protections in place to ensure military working dogs, specifically, had a safe life after their service. Sadly, in the case of the U.S. military, these specially trained K9s were viewed and officially categorized as “surplus equipment.” An unfortunate consequence of this is when American troops left Vietnam between 1973 and 1975, many of the military trained dogs were euthanized when the troops departed, and the others were just simply left behind.
The concept of K9 Veterans Day was initiated by Joe White of Jacksonville, FL. White was a Vietnam War veteran and a K9 handler and trainer. Because the U.S. Army K9 Corps was officially created on March 13, 1942, White chose this day to recognize and celebrate the service and contributions of America’s military working and service dogs. After his death in 2009, White’s wife, Sally, has continued the effort to make this a national holiday.
While White lobbied to honor the service of K9 veterans with a national holiday every March 13, others have worked to protect the lives of military working dogs. This began about 23 years ago after a former military working dog handler petitioned to adopt his dog, Robby, after he was retired from service. His request, however, was denied for unspecific reasons and Robby was instead euthanized.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) introduced a bill on September 27, 2000, to help change the fate of military working dogs like Robby. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in November 2000 and it became known as Robby’s Law. Robby’s Law requires that all military working dogs deemed to be suitable for adoption should be available for placement after retirement from service. Additionally, Robby’s Law gives priority for adoption to former handlers and to law enforcement agencies.
Another win for K9 service veterans occurred on June 1, 2015, when the Military Dog Retirement Bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and supported by the U.S. War Dog Association, was introduced. The bill passed in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Barak Obama. The law stipulates that military working dogs may no longer be deemed “equipment.”
Currently, there are about 3,000 military working dogs deployed alongside American troops all over the globe. K9 service dogs are loved and appreciated for their work. Unfortunately, however, despite the recognition they receive and the laws that have been passed to protect them, there are still some that do get left without homes after their service ends. There are adoption agencies that specialize in pairing people with retired K9 service dogs and arrange for their adoptions. A few of these organizations are Patriot K9 Rescue, Pets For Patriots, Warrior Dog Foundation and Mission K9 Rescue.
Take just a moment on March 13 to think about the service K9s and all of their contributions. Then take another moment to give your dog a hug, a quick belly rub, and an extra treat in honor of National K9 Veterans Day.
Please consider donating today: Ruff Start Rescue – General Support (networkforgood.com).
Veteran.com – Joe Wallace
Military.com – Amy Buschatz
American Humane – Cory Gunkel
American Kennel Club – Mara Bovsun