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A human footprint beside a dog footprint on a beach

Man's Best Friend

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During two world wars dogs were given many duties including carrying messages, laying communication wires and helping to locate mines.

Man’s best friend has been by our side for some 14,000 years, playing a part in some of the most significant human conflicts of our history. The dog’s devotion to man, its intelligence and heightened sense of smell has seen it carry out a variety of roles in warfare.

The Romans made good use of their loyalty and fearsome image to deter and detect any marauding bandits by placing them near camps or on patrols as sentries. Attila the Hun used giant Molosser dogs on the front line, sending them in packs to face his European enemies. Mastiffs and Great Danes were used in England during the Middles Ages, exploiting their size to scare enemy horses into throwing off the knight they were carrying.

During two world wars dogs were given many duties including carrying messages, laying communication wires and helping to locate mines. Due to their widespread roles, many stories of heroism and dedication have arisen from these two conflicts alone.

A bulldog terrier with a short tail, aptly named Stubby, became the first dog in U.S. military history to be awarded a rank. Connected with the U.S. 102nd Infantry Regiment, who found him whilst training on Yale University campus, Stubby was given his name and smuggled on board the SS Minnesota by Private John Robert Conroy and headed for the trenches in 1918. Endearing himself to the whole Regiment with his antics, Stubby would go on to save the lives of these men time and time again. Armed with an acute sense of smell and hearing, Stubby could alert the troops to incoming shells or gas long before they themselves could detect them. He would also locate wounded soldiers in No Man’s Land, standing by their side and barking until a medic arrived. He even detained a German spy who was mapping out the American trenches. Stubby bit him on the leg the German tripped over and was subsequently captured. When he was awarded the rank of Sergeant, Stubby found himself outranking his own owner. After participating in 17 battles and being wounded twice, Stubby returned home a national hero, participating in frequent parades before his death in 1926.

And then there was Smoky, a Yorkshire Terrier who served as a mascot in WWII with the US 5th Air Force in the Pacific. Adopted by Corporal William Wynne in the jungle of New Guinea, Smoky helped to divert the minds of those around her from the stresses and horrors of war. Surviving a parachute jump, air raids, living in primitive conditions and through combat missions, Smoky was awarded eight battle stars for her bravery and devotion. She has six memorials dedicated in her honour.

In more modern times, dogs have played a crucial role in sniffing out and locating explosive devices. Subsequently 4 dogs have been awarded the Dickin award since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began in 2003 including Treo the Labrador who in August 2008, located an IED (“improvised explosive device”) on a road about to be passed by 7 Platoon, undoubtedly saving the lives of many soldiers.

Did you know?

Between the years 1964 and 1973 America deployed an estimated 4,000 war dogs to Vietnam to aid in the fight against the North. The dogs and their handlers helped to reduce the enemy’s ability for surprise attacks to such an extent that the Viet Cong placed a price tag on their heads.