In this day of Remembrance lest we forget our canine heroes. As human's best friend, dogs are often unsung heroes in military service, selflessly performing heroic feats and saving a significant number of lives without asking for anything in return.
As part of Remembrance Day we thought it appropriate to sing praise for those unsung, forgotten or unknown heroes.
Dogs in Combat
Dogs have been used in combat as far back as the Stone Ages, where Mastiffs were domesticated in the Tibet region. The Egyptian military used dogs as far back as 1600BC. Today dogs are specifically trained for active combat duty. Interestingly, North America lagged behind the rest of the world with regards to the use of military canines. North America had no official Military Dog Program until WWll. Germany on the other hand had been training military dogs since 1870.
Famous War Canines
Famous hero war dogs include Sgt. Stubby in the US Military during WWl and Sgt. Gander from the Royal Rifles of Canada in WWll.
Ironically Sgt. Stubby, the most decorated US Military Dog, was a Pit Bull, a breed that’s no longer allowed to serve as a US Military dog. He was a rescue dog who was later smuggled onto a ship inside an officer's overcoat and became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division in France.
He spent 18 months in France and participated in 17 battles on the western front before being smuggled back home to a hero’s welcome at the end of the war. He met presidents, led parades and became an honorary member of the American Legion, the Red Cross and YMCA.
Sgt. Gander was a Newfoundlander who was raised on an airport base in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and became the mascot for the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada. In 1941, when the 1st Battalion was sent to Hong Kong, Gander was promoted to the rank of “Sergeant” and joined the Battalion on their mission.
He fought Japanese invaders on 3 occasions and his black coat was excellent camouflage for battles which typically occurred at night. When a grenade was thrown near a group of injured Canadians, Gander grabbed the grenade and ran away with it in his mouth. He died when the grenade exploded and saved the lives of the 7 injured soldiers. He gave his life for them.
Animals’ Victoria Cross
The highest award an animal can receive the PDSA Dickinson Metal. It’s recognized globally as the animals’ Victoria Cross and acknowledges “outstanding acts of bravery or devotion on duty”. 32 pigeons, 31 dogs, 4 horses and 1 cat have been awarded the medal over the years.
Gander was awarded the medal for gallantry 60 years after his death. The ceremony was attended by 20 surviving members of Gander’s regiment. Fred Kelly, with a Newfoundland dog at his side, accepted the medal on Gander’s behalf. The medal is on display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Also, when the Hong Kong Veterans Memorial Wall was created, Gander’s name was listed alongside the 1977 Canadians who died during the battle.
Animals in War Dedication
The Animals’ in War Dedication bronze statue resides in Confederation Park in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The foot (hoof or paw) prints of dogs, horses and mules are stamped into the concrete of the Animals’ War Dedication, representing the imprints they left on the battlefield. It sits next to the South African War Memorial Monument, honouring a battle for which Canada sent 50,000 horses for mounted troops. The statue was created by Canadian artist and sculptor David Clendining.
Dogs Helping Veterans
Sadly, 22 military veterans die a day in North America at their own hand to end the pain caused by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).* Associations such as Canadian Veteran Service Dog Unit (CVSDU) provide trained service dogs and support for PTSD and Operational Stress Injury (OSI). War dogs gave the same emotional support to men in combat and within infirmeries while they themselves recuperated from war injuries.
Dogs are Awesome!
It all boils down to one simple fact - Dogs are Awesome! Let’s remember that.