March 13 was K9 Veteran's Day, and as such service animals everywhere were supposed to be noted for their contributions to our health, safety and security. While the event was begun in an effort to recognize and honor dogs of military service, it wasn't long before it morphed into a day of celebration for working dogs assisting in law enforcement, search and rescue, service, and therapy needs, both physical and emotional. So, what's the catalyst behind this day of canine recognition? How long ago did it start and how long have dogs been used in a military capacity to assist us? Read on.
Dogs of War
It seems back in World War I Europeans and Americans were using canines to aid in the war effort. Go back about 2,500 years, however, and you'll find some of the earliest accounts of dogs in war dating from about 600 BC. But getting back to the 20th century, Sgt. Stubby (Boston/bull terrier mix?) became the most decorated dog in WWI due to his uncommon valor on the battlefield.
The official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (U.S.), little Stubby served 18 months while participating in 17 battles on the Western Front. On countless occasions Sgt. Stubby saved his regiment from mustard gas, located and gave comfort to the wounded, and once even captured a German soldier by putting the bite on him and holding him captive until U.S. soldiers found them.
History of K9 Veteran's Day
It wasn't until WWII rolled around that the military found an expanded role for K9 veterans. In 1942, the U.S. Army K9 Corps officially began through the Dogs for Defense program. Behind the program stood private citizens Arlene Erlanger, a small group of breeders and the American Kennel Club with the goal of training dogs for use in the military.
By November of '42, the first batch of graduates was prepared for deployment to North Africa. Eventually, the Remount Branch, Service Installations Divisions took over the program, but the date of its birth, March 13, 1942, would soon become an officially recognized event thanks to Joseph White, a retired military working-dog trainer.
K9 Veteran's Celebrations
Fast forward to the 21st century and you'll find all sorts of ways people have found to honor our four-legged vets. Yesterday, there were charity events with the proceeds going towards programs like America's VetDogs, military celebrations honoring K9s at the Virginia War Memorial, numerous animal shelter and humane society observances, and even a 24-hour Rudy Sale in connection to World of Tanks.
Today, some 2,500 dogs are currently serving in the U.S. military helping to track, defend, detect and sniff out bad guys, drugs and explosives.
Best Ways to Honor K9 Veterans
Next year, why not plan on doing something special for K9 Veteran's Day? You don't have to get up early to attend a memorial or shelter benefit, but you could contact your local law enforcement departments and offer to volunteer or donate in connection to their K9 units. Saveavet.org is often looking for people to adopt retired K9 military veterans, or you can volunteer to pet foster parent through Dogs on Deployment. Both of these programs accept donations as well.
You can also donate time and money to K9s for Warriors in order to help returning vets adjust to civilian life or help fund raise money towards bringing a military member's stranded K9 stateside after their tour of duty has ended, so that they might be reunited here at home. What do you do that's personally fulfilling on K9 Veteran's Day? Let us know.