Military working dogs have gone by all manner of moniker throughout U.S. military history, including K-9 Corps and “war dogs.” In various combat eras, they served as guards, messengers, mascots, and scouts, according to an Army book on military working dog history.
The vast majority of the military canines in recent times have been German and Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Their characteristics are an appropriate fit for the job. They are aggressive, intelligent, loyal and athletic. Artists have found ways to give them a fitting tribute in two memorial works of art. That's an appropriate gesture as well.
But what about their status on the battlefield? Do these unsung heroes receive the same respect as their human handlers, as determined by law? Do these fearless warriors —who enter the theater of war weeks on end -- have any legal rights?
Military Working Dog Teams National Monument
The Military Working Dog Teams National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA)-Lackland in San Antonio, Texas. It was founded by John C. Burnam, published author and Vietnam Veteran Infantryman and German Shepherd Scout Dog Handler (1966-1968).
The monument was dedicated during a formal military ceremony on October 28, 2013. An inscription reads: "Dedicated to all U.S. Military Working Dog Handlers and their beloved dogs who defend America from harm, defeat the enemy, and save lives."
“My Hero, My Friend”
A statue titled: “My Hero, My Friend” was created by Susan Norris who is well-known in this art field. The project was to create a tribute to the military and the battlefield it served.
Norris created a life-size bronze sculpture of a military four-legged working dog wearing a Purple Heat, mourning the loss of its two-legged best friend.
“I’ve always had an affection for animals, but the bond between a military dog and its partner is on a whole other level,” Norris said in a press release.
This sculpture's goal was to honor the bravery and dedication of a military service dog to its human handler. It's hard to pass by and not be affected. It tugs at the heartstrings of those who pass by. The sculpture resides at another Texas location. It will be a highlight at the Veterans Memorial Park in Trophy Club, Texas, inside the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Are these Canines just Tools?
So while these memorials are necessary tributes, shouldn't these brave warriors be respected on an equal par with their war-buddy handlers?
In the United States, military canines are labeled as “equipment”. A bill was introduced in 2012 to reclassify them as “canine members of the armed force,” but this legislation ultimately lapsed without being passed into law. In practice, they are treated as noncommissioned officers and given higher ranks than their handlers to ensure respect. But this is a symbolic gesture and brings with it no legal protections when on the battlefield.
In some respects, one could consider them collateral damage. Dogs are nothing more than a tool. They can be targeted and destroyed like inanimate military gear.
The use of dogs at war and in operations as heroes receives none of the legal protections given to their human counterparts. This coupled with the fact, that they are drafted. They never had a say in the matter. We've eliminated the draft for U.S. soldiers, yet we don't think twice about training the next German Shepherd for the job.
Differing from their handlers, trained dogs lack the 'fear' element of humans. Or should we say, it's less obviously displayed? They go into battle based on trained orders. They don't think twice. They obey on command. Yes, they may contract PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but that's a disputed matter. To some, they seem as unknowing about the act of fear as a drone airplane. To others, they are considered brain-washed combatants.
So I end today's blog with no clear answers. This is a dilemma that needs attention from animal advocacy groups as well as the government. In the meantime, we thank the artists and benefactors of the two monuments created in their honor. Those tributes were hard-earned and well-deserved by military work dogs the world over.