Friday, May 23, 2008

Animals at War - Dogs

Dogs have been a fixture on the battle field since the beginning of war. Perhaps not as glorified as the horse, their loyalty, trainability, adaptability and courage have made them an indispensible cog in war's machine.

Dogs used in combat were first bred and trained as fighters. The Roman army had entire companies composed of fierce, aggressive canines who would battle alongside Rome's human legions. Wearing spiked collars and anklets, the half-starved dogs would be let loose on the battlefield to terrorize and decimate Rome's enemies. Not until they met the ancient Mastiffs of Britain were the Roman dogs defeated.

Dogs soon took on larger responsibilities when it came to war. They were used as messengers, sentries, guards and pack animals. Favored breeds included the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and Rottweiler, but Airedales, Poodles and Irish Terriers were frequently used as ammunition carriers and messengers because of their courage, intelligence and grace under fire. During WWI the Germans put over 30,000 dogs in to service, the French, 20,000. American Marines used Dobermans to help them liberate Guam in 1944. 25 of them were killed and there is a stirring memorial to their memory and service. American forces used over 4,000 dogs as scouts and messengers during the war in Vietnam.

Many other dogs became mascots. Some were smuggled onto troop ships and into battle by their soldier-owners. Others were adopted along the way. During WWII it was rare for a platoon to be without a dog. Many of these canine companions would march and drill with their men, fall out for roll-call and join them in the trenches. Although they may not have been the fierce battle dogs of Roman history, I'm sure the services they provided—love, companionship and comfort to their humans—was even more valuable.

This photo is of the War Dog Memorial on Guam. I apologize for not citing the photographer, but the memorial was donated by the UDC (United Doberman Club). The statue is titled: Always Faithful.

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