By Cesar Millan
Memorial Day is a day when many of us will spend a nice long weekend with our families hanging out at the beach, having a picnic in the park, or grilling in the backyard. School’s almost out and summer’s almost here. Sometimes in all the fun, it’s easy to forget why we have this weekend in the first place—because so many of the ones we love are not here to enjoy it.
Memorial Day began after the U.S. Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers. The last Monday of every May has been observed ever since to remember the men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. I myself give great thanks to these amazing people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I would include in my gratitude the working dogs of the military.
Since ancient Egypt, dogs have been used during times of war and for other military service. In World War I, they delivered messages between units behind the lines. One of these dogs, Sergeant Stubby, became the first dog to be given a military rank, and received a national medal for his service. Dogs have been used more and more in conflicts throughout history. Over five thousand dogs served in Vietnam alone. They had a large presence in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cairo. A Belgian Malinois, joined Navy SEAL Team Six in the attack which killed Osama bin Laden.
Dogs have been able to provide valuable services to the military. With their powerful noses and compact sizes, they are able to accomplish things humans cannot. Their keen hearing makes them excellent sentries. Our men and women in uniform can sleep soundly knowing that their canine comrades will alert them if danger approaches.
Dogs are able to use the same skills they use at home as police dogs. They are able to track scents, detect bombs, and find bodies. They also can be used as scouts, going ahead of the humans in their unit to look for enemy combatants, explosive devices, or other dangers that might wait for them.
Dogs have become such important parts of the unit, that army psychologists say that when the unit loses a canine member, the grief in the rest of the unit can be as great as when a human member is lost. Dogs and their handlers become so bonded, that often upon discharge they live out their civilian lives together. Other soldier dogs transition to military hospitals upon retirement where they can serve as helpers or companions to the injured.
Many people might feel sorry for the dogs, who obviously don’t have much choice in the matter. They don’t go to a military recruiting office on their own. However, I’ve always believed that dogs who have a purpose thrive. Whether it’s herding sheep, leading the blind, or aiding the police, these dogs live fulfilling lives.
This is not to say that these dogs don’t face the same issues that their human counterparts face. Many dogs have to deal with the constant stress of being in the field and the workload can burn many of them out. Dogs also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which only now is being studied and treated and they often face great obstacles adjusting to a civilian life.
This Memorial Day, I hope you enjoy your time with family and friends as you celebrate freedom in honor of our war heroes–the fury ones included.