In 2012, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Retired Air Force Staff Sergeant Len Anderson nearly stepped on an explosive device while on patrol. His military working dog, Azza, warned him about the device moments before he would have stepped on it, saving his life. On another patrol, Azza alerted Anderson to another IED. Even though it was remotely activated and detonated, causing massive injuries to Anderson, he only survived because Azza was able to let him know it was there.
Canines have served as wartime working dogs for centuries, but it was on March 13, 1942, that the American Army War Dogs Program was made official. It was called the K-9 Corps, and its official existence made it possible for Army dogs to be trained and recognized for their efforts. Even though dogs have served alongside American forces in every conflict since the Revolutionary War, their work and sacrifices have only been officially recognized since World War II. For those wondering about the early dogs of war, check out our articles, Working Dogs to Recognize on K-9 Veterans Day and Famous Working Dogs to Recognize on Labor Day for heroic examples.
Azza’s story, while heroic and impressive, is not unique. Hidden IEDs have been called the number one threat by Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Two-thirds of all U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are caused by IEDs. In response, the Department of Defense has spent billions on technology and armor innovations to detect, disarm, and protect troops from explosives. However, canines trained to sniff out bombs exceed the work of all existing technology by an incredible 80-percent.
Military working dogs don’t just detect bombs. They inflict fear on aggressors, act as scouts, are messengers, work as guards, patrol and protect, assist with search and rescue efforts, and accompany special forces on countless missions with untold dangers. They’ve saved more lives than can be counted, and have assisted in the protection of our rights and freedoms without complaint.
Today, military dogs are increasingly valued as crucial members of the U.S. Armed Forces. They are honored, given awards and medals for their service, are given memorial services, and are featured in their own retirement ceremonies. They do have one need that we have yet to address in its entirety. Veteran dogs need, and deserve, a long, healthy, loving retirement with a dignified end-of-life. They’ve saved thousands of lives. Those who are not killed in action need homes with families and guardians who can understand the effects of war and provide a unique living experience specific to the needs of dogs of war.
Many canines are still left behind after completing their tours, trapped on U.S. bases abroad. This is occurring even after that 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requires that they be returned to the U.S. Azza was one of the lucky ones who was returned to her handler, Anderson. However, many more remain stranded overseas. There are ways you can help!
- Share this message on November 11th, Veterans Day, and on March 13th, K-9 Veterans Day, to help build awareness for the contributions and needs of our K-9 veterans.
- Offer your time as a volunteer to support K-9 and veteran programs that provide meaningful resources to these underrepresented heroes.
- If you have the right home and can provide the right level of support, offer your home and heart as a forever home for a K-9 veteran.
- Donations are always appreciated and can offer crucial resources and support to projects and efforts already underway. Nonprofits like American Humane are working hard to ensure a retirement that is spent on U.S. soil, with the care, quality of life, and wellbeing these voiceless heroes deserve.
Whatever action you choose to take, however small, you are not only giving a working dog a well-deserved home, you’re also taking part in an act of gratitude for the rights and freedoms we all enjoy, every day.
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