I watched the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart interview author and dog lover Maria Goodavage about her latest book entitled Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes which was published last March, and I immediately put it on my must read list. By the way, MWD is the acronym for Military Working Dog.
Throughout history, dogs have been used in numerous martial roles: Attacking enemies, protecting fighters, as well as alerting soldiers when they detect danger. They have also been deployed as trackers, messengers and first aid deliverers, especially in high risk areas where humans would more likely than not be able to get through. But today their most common job is to sniff out explosives.
This book is an engaging account of the dedicated canines who play significant roles in our military’s efforts both past and current. While the exploits of military working dogs have been documented in earlier war efforts, much of the information in this volume concentrates on the hostilities in Afghanistan. In 2010, working dog teams in that country were credited with finding more than 12,500 lbs. of explosives. Current figures show that the Department of Defense has some 2,700 U.S. military working dogs in service throughout the world, with about 600 found in actual warzones.
Ironically, MWDs are classified as equipment by the Department of Defense. It’s a designation that fell upon military dogs after the Second World War, when the military started purchasing canines. Of course handlers see their dogs as anything but equipment. Handlers put their lives on the line for their devoted canine companions, and the reverse is also true. A common refrain among handlers who have been deployed is “war would have been hell without my dog.” Dogs and their soldier counterparts spend almost every minute together. Handlers and their canines eat, sleep, play and work together. As a result it’s not surprising that extremely close bonds are formed. Some soldiers feel so close to their dogs they have even shared their honorary medals with them, and many make a point of adopting their dogs when they return home.
So the military’s practice of categorizing soldier dogs as mere equipment seems odd, out of touch and somewhat heartless. After all, these animals are hard working and vibrant partners who should be treated with respect, kindness, and love, all of which their soldier handlers freely lavish upon them.
Many of the dogs used by the armed forces are German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois, although other breeds are also occasionally drafted. I can especially appreciate the use of German Shepherds. My step mother-in-law used to breed these very disciplined canines. They are highly intelligent, aggressive and have a keen sense of responsibility and devotion to owner and family. They are natural protectors and enjoy having a job to do, which makes them highly suitable for military purposes.
This book is written in an easygoing style which relies heavily on first hand accounts, observations and quotes from those involved with MWDs. It also chronicles the stories of soldiers whose dogs did not come home, dying at the hands of the enemy; an all too common and heartbreaking reality of this world.
Over the years MWDs have become an invaluable part of the complete modern army. As former Four Star General and current CIA Director, David Petraeus put it: ”The capacity they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.”
So here is a salute and a heartfelt thank you to our military and their canine heroes!
Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes