Everyone knows a military veteran, and everyone knows a dog. But few know a military veteran who is a dog. The official term is Military Working Dog (MWD) and while we all know they exist; most don’t know exactly what they do. The 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is one of the units where these dogs are trained to perform specific tasks such as patrol, drug & explosive detection, delivery of messages and other specialized mission functions. The dogs spend roughly 20 weeks training while their handlers are in class for a period of 17 weeks. After that, both are deployed to their assignment and stay together for the duration of the K9’s service period. When deployed to an active combat zone the two of them stay together 24 hours/day.
There are over 2,700 active military service dogs and it is estimated that each dog saves 150-200 human lives over the course of their service.
The most common breeds found to be fit for service are German Sheppard, Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labradors. Any breed can serve and there was once a Boston Bull Terrier named Stubby who served in World War I and is credited with single-handedly capturing a German soldier and then became the only dog to be promoted to Sergeant!
Unfortunately, these dogs were once treated as “equipment” and were sometimes euthanized or abandoned on the battlefield. Thankfully, Robby’s Law (10 U.S.C. 2583) was signed by President Clinton in 2000 and requires all MWDs to be returned to the United States after deployment and subsequentially discharged from military service.
Like their human counterparts, MWDs can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental disorders such as fear of loud noises. As a result, these Heroes need specialized care after service and sometimes don’t return to a “normal” dog lifestyle. The demand to adopt these dogs is very high and usually requires a waiting list longer than 12-14 months. There are several agencies one can contact for more information on adoption.
So, on this Veteran’s Day remember all those who served including their K9 counterparts!
Written by Kirk Hensley: Senior Search Consultant & Business Development Manager for Life Sciences and Animal Health Recruiters