Army DogIn the U.K., a 9-year-old black Labrador named Treo has been awarded the Dickin Medal for his military service in Afghanistan. The medal is the equivalent of the Victoria Cross for a military animal. “I’m very proud indeed,” said his handler, Sgt. Dave Heyhoe, who has worked with him for five years.

Treo’s duty was to sniff out explosives, specifically roadside bombs. According to Sgt. Heyhoe, “He’s basically a four-legged metal detector.” And an effective one at that. He twice found carefully hidden bombs that would have otherwise detonated, killing large numbers of British troops. For these accomplishments, Treo becomes the sixty-third recipient of the Dickin Medal since its inception in 1943.

Treo’s tale is in some ways heartwarming. He saved lives, was awarded for it, and now can retire and live out the rest of his life in peace. In the past, many military dogs weren’t so lucky.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military utilized more than 4,000 dogs overseas. These dogs are credited with preventing over 10,000 American casualties. But when the war ended, they were deemed “surplus equipment” by the Department of Defense and left behind. Many perished, and only about 200 dogs ever made it back to the United States.  Those who served with the dogs were devastated. According to Fred Dorr, a former Marine Corps dog handler and current president of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, several handlers were so traumatized they developed post-traumatic stress disorder: “It’s like leaving your kid back there.”

Fortunately, things have changed since Vietnam. A documentary on the Discovery Channel, War Dogs: America’s Forgotten Heroes, drew the public’s attention to the fate of the brave dogs left behind. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a law establishing a military working dog adoption program. Dogs working in Iraq and Afghanistan now have a chance of finding homes when they return from war. And the dogs left behind in Vietnam now have two memorials honoring their service: one on March Air Force Base in Riverside, California and the other at Fort Benning, Georgia.

While it is great to know military dogs have the potential for a much brighter future than they did in the past, it’s hard to ignore the ethical and moral questions arising from the use of animals in warfare. Of course, that leads to ethical and moral questions about war in general, and that’s too much for a simple blog post to tackle.

Photo Source: U.S. Army Photostream