Today, March 13, is National K9 Veteran’s Day.
You don’t have to be a dog lover to get behind a day that honors the service and sacrifices of dogs that have served in the U.S. military, law enforcement and other agencies. Specially trained and as hard working as their human handlers, K9 Veterans have definitely earned their own day of recognition.
K9 Veteran’s Day was created by Joseph White of Jacksonville, Fla., a Vietnam War veteran, K9 handler and trainer. Since 2009 it has been celebrated on March 13, which is the official birthday of the U.S. Army K9 Corps (formed in 1942).
While over a million dogs served in World War I on both sides of the conflict, the U.S. actually abandoned the practice of training dogs for military use after the war. When America entered World War II, the Dogs for Defense and the American Kennel Association started a movement to get dog owners to donate their animals to the U.S. Army, and training dogs for all branches of the military began in March 1942.
These special canines carry out many jobs besides combat duty. Here are some other ways these working dogs serve and protect:
- In our nation’s capital, the K9 unit will conduct sweeps of suspicious packages, buildings and vehicles to ensure safe working environment and during instances of high-level security threats.
- Transportations Security Administration (TSA) working dogs are trained to sniff out hidden explosives, narcotics and other materials that pose security threats.
- S. Customs and Border protection is another area where working dogs detect and help seize controlled substances and other contraband, in addition to helping local law enforcement agencies when needed.
- Law enforcement K9 search and rescue missing persons, fugitives and victims of natural disasters and other emergencies.
- A rather exclusive echelon of military working dogs gets trained to jump from planes, rappel from helicopters and work alongside elite Special Operations units in combat situations.
Training these special dogs requires a tremendous investment of time and money. It is estimated that training one animal ranges between $20,000 and $40,000 depending on its specialization. And that’s just the dog. Dog handlers have to go through their own special training as well.
Currently, the Department of Defense trains about 500 dogs a year through a 120-day program that includes basic obedience and more advanced skills such as attacking and sniffing specific substances. Then they go through more training with their handlers so they can learn how to work as a team. It’s estimated that there are 2,300 working dogs active in our armed forces.
We salute and thank you, our K9 veterans and heroes, past and present.