National K9 Veterans Day: 3 Heroic Retired Military Working Dogs
Did you know that the U.S. Military has working service dogs who serve alongside our military heroes? March 13 is National K9 Veterans Day, a day to honor the service and sacrifice of American military and working dogs throughout history. For any dog lover, it is no surprise that there are countless stories of the bravery and heroism displayed by K9 veterans.
While dogs have served bravely alongside the men and women of our military since the Revolutionary War, the US Army officially established the War Dog Program, known as the K9 Corps, on March 13th, 1942. Many patriotic Americans volunteered their pet dogs for service. Initially, 32 different breeds were accepted for training, but the list was soon narrowed to just seven: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheepdogs, Siberian Huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes.
Over 8 to 12 weeks, the dogs underwent “basic training” to help them become accustomed to life in the military and received training under one of four specialized assignments: sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs, and mine dogs.
By March 1944, fifteen war dog platoons were established and deployed to assist American military forces conducting offensive operations in Europe and the Pacific. Seven platoons served in Europe, with the other eight served in the Pacific.
Since then, dogs have served countless missions across numerous wars. Let’s take a moment to reflect on and remember three brave military working dogs:
Source: US Army
Chips, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix, was an American K9 that served in World War II and was deployed with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division to North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. Trained as a sentry dog, or guard dog, Chips proved that his bravery exceeded his training on numerous occasions.
One of Chips most courageous actions took place during the invasion of Sicily in 1943. Chips and his handler Pvt. John R Rowell landed on the shore of southern Sicily. As they made their way inland, a hidden machine gun began to open fire. Chips broke free from Rowell and raced into the hut. He attacked the gunners and forced the surrender of four enemy soldiers all by himself.
Later that night, after being treated for wounds, Chips alerted his handler to an infiltration attempt by ten Italian soldiers and helped to capture all ten men.
Chip’s heroism was memorialized in a 1990 Disney movie entitled Chips, the War Dog.
Source: 3 Million Dogs
Cairo began serving in the military in 2008. By 2011, Cairo had served in many missions and sustained life threatening injuries in the course of his service. Even after making a full recovery, Cairo’s future as a military working dog was uncertain and he wasn’t expected to redeploy.
In March 2011, Chesney received a call that they would be deployed on a top secret mission to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound. Cairo and Chesney were the only canine team to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound. Like his handler, Cairo was equipped with specialized equipment, including body armor and heat vision goggles. They searched the perimeter for bombs and escape tunnels before entering and clearing the main house. After the successful mission, only one hero’s name was released, Cairo.
Chesney wrote a book entitled No Ordinary Dog: My Partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid to tell the story of Cairo and their incredible bond.
Lucca, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, served in the United States Marine Corps for 6 years as a tactical explosive detection dog.
Over her 6 years of service, Lucca was deployed to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan once. She was adept at She led over 400 missions, protected the lives of thousands of troops, and is credited with at least 40 confirmed finds of insurgents, explosives and ammunition. Most notably, no human casualties were ever sustained during her patrols.
On her final mission in Afghanistan in 2012, an improvised explosive device detonated near Lucca. While she survived the blast, the massive explosion severely injured Lucca and led to the amputation of her front left leg.
Following her recovery, Lucca retired from service and lived happily in California with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham. In 2016, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals unanimously voted to award Lucca the Dickin Medal, Britain’s highest award for valor by a military animal, making her the first U.S. military dog to receive the medal.
Maria Goodavage told the story of Lucca’s life in the book titled Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca.
Life After Service
When their service is done, military working dogs retire and officially become K9 veterans. More than 90% of these K9 veterans get adopted by their handler. What happens to the remaining 10% of retired military working dogs?
While many are adopted by police forces, many are not due to age or injury. This is where civilians come in. Military dog adoption is a great way to give a hero a loving home for their senior years.
If you are interested in adopting a retired military dog, be patient. The adoption process is not quick. Applicants are carefully screened to ensure it is the right fit. There are some great organizations, like Save-A-Vet and Mission K9 Rescue, that can help you through the process.
- Holly W