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Stars and Stripes | Paws-on-the-ground: Honor 4-legged heroes this Canine Veterans Day

March 7, 2024By: Robin Ganzert

Every November, Americans honor the brave men and women in uniform who served our country. Similarly, during Canine Veterans Day on March 13, the somber respect should also be extended to the four-legged heroes who serve in the U.S. armed forces. It’s a day set aside for all of us to commemorate the sacrifice of the military dogs who have helped defend America’s freedoms since the founding.

Dating back to the Revolutionary War, courageous canines have fought alongside U.S. troops in nearly every theater of war—ranging from Normandy to Afghanistan. Whether as bomb-sniffers, trackers, assault support units, or simply morale boosters, the American soldier has had no better ally than man’s best friend.

Although dogs have accompanied and aided our troops since 1776, March 13 commemorates the date that the K-9 Corps was officially formed more than eight decades ago. At the time, roughly 30 breeds were accepted into the force, with roles including sentry, patrol, messenger, mine, and attack dogs. Fast forward to today and, according to the Department of Defense, there are now roughly 1,600 working dogs serving in our armed forces.

One of America’s first widely recognized four-legged heroes was a German shepherd-collie-husky mix named Chips who served more than three years on multiple continents during World War II. He was awarded the military’s third-highest medal for bravery after helping save pinned-down U.S. forces in Italy and forcing the surrender of numerous enemy soldiers.

Because of his heroism, Chips even got to meet high-profile leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. Who doesn’t enjoy a wagging tail?

There is no shortage of canine heroes. Modern examples include a Belgian Malinois named Cairo who aided Navy SEALs in the raid that took down Osama bin Laden. And in 2019, another Malinois named Conan made headlines after braving injury to chase down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The heroism is something we should aspire to and honor.

That is why my organization, American Humane, helps to reunite retired military dogs with their veteran handlers. We help cut through the red tape, navigate logistics, and cover transportation costs to rekindle these strong bonds that provide joy on both ends of the leash. Most recently, we reunified retired military dog John and his former handler, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Alcala, just in time for Christmas.

American Humane is no stranger to aiding U.S. military members. We also manage the Pups4Patriots program, which finds dogs in search of forever homes and trains them to be lifesaving service animals for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. Provided at no cost to the veteran, the program harnesses the healing power of the human-animal bond, helping retired service members adjust to a more normal life.

U.S. military dogs are paws-on-the-ground all around the world — helping to keep America and its allies secure. So, this Canine Veterans Day, take a moment to commemorate the four-legged heroes who help keep us safe.

Robin Ganzert is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization. She is the author of “Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World.

America's two and four legged veterans served us - now let's serve them.