All dogs are awesome in their own right, but some truly deserve great recognition and honor. Each day, military working dogs obediently perform their duties and play their own role in protecting the nation.
K9 Veterans Day is an opportunity to recognize their contributions, thank them for their service, and celebrate them for their heroic work.
History of National K9 Veterans Day
Dogs have assisted humans in battle since ancient times. But in the United States, it wasn’t until World War 2 that canines officially became part of the military.
On March 13, 1942, the War Dog Program of the US Army was officially established. Commonly referred to as the K-9 Corps, this organization was tasked to vet canine donations and train the animals to do various types of work, not just for the Army but also for the Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. Since then, the nation has become increasingly dependent on military dogs.
We don’t often realize it but the military is very much dependent on working dogs to perform tasks that are critical to our safety and security. In fact, the Department of Defense now trains over 500 dogs per year and deploys suitable candidates around the world to work as sentries, scouts, messengers, mine dogs, or bomb-sniffers.
National K9 Veterans Day is celebrated every March 13th in commemoration of the establishment of the US War Dog Program and in honor of the largely unsung canine heroes of the nation.
Why Celebrate National K9 Veterans Day
Our four-legged military veterans deserve just as much praise and adoration as their human counterparts. Whether they have already passed or continue to serve, any dog that has valiantly served the nation in any capacity deserves a whole day to be recognized as good boys and girls, indeed.
All military dogs deserve to be honored, but here are a few stories of canine heroism that we should all be grateful for:
Sallie Ann Jarrett the Civil War Hero
Sallie Ann Jarrett was a Pit Bull Terrier that accompanied the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry throughout the Civil War. Despite being a mere mascot for the soldiers, she didn’t shy away from battle and was often seen at the front lines.
After several engagements, she became separated from her regiment who thought she did not make it out of battle alive. Eventually, she was found where her regiment fought on the first day, guarding her companions who were either killed or wounded.
Sallie Ann had engaged in several other battles. She survived her first gunshot but could not evade death a second time.
She was so loved and revered that her companions took the time to bury her and honor her death despite being under fire. Today, a statue depicting a resting Sallie Ann can be seen at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Sgt. Stubby the World War 1 Stray
Sgt. Stubby was a stray Pit Bull Terrier that was adopted by Cpl. John Robert Conroy, who smuggled him into France. There, he became an unofficial yet beloved member of the 102nd Infantry Regiment.
He valiantly fought alongside his humans in 17 battles and confronted enemies in 4 offenses. He fought and assisted his regiment in various ways.
He alerted soldiers to incoming artillery fire as well as when deadly vapors were in the air. He had also detected and captured at least one German spy.
Although he was wounded and gassed several times, Sgt. Stuffy was able to enjoy civilian life with his human. Robert Conroy smuggled him back to the United States and cared for him until he died in his sleep at 10 years old.
Today, his remains lie at the Smithsonian Institution so that his story may be preserved and told. In 2018, an animated film entitled “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero” was released to honor the story of this brave, smart, and loyal stray.
Chips the World War 2 Vet
Chips is probably the most popular canine war vet of World War 2. This German Shepherd, Husky, and Collie hybrid was donated for military service and was one of the first dogs to be shipped abroad for active duty.
Chips is best known for his valor at the Invasion of Sicily where he discovered and attacked a hidden German gun nest. Singlehandedly, he rendered a smoking enemy machine gun unusable by pulling it out of its base and also threatened soldiers into submission and surrender.
This, along with his many other demonstrations of intelligence and courage, was the subject of a 1990 movie entitled “Chips, the War Dog.” In 2018, he was given Great Britain’s prestigious PDSA Dickin Medal, which is reserved for animals that have demonstrated exemplary bravery.
Although it was awarded posthumously, he was finally given the honor he deserved
Nemo the Vietnam War Vet
Nemo was a German Shepherd who fought gallantly alongside his handler, Airman 2nd Class Robert A. Thorneburg, during the Vietnam War. His greatest act of heroism unfolded when he and Thorneburg came under attack by Viet Cong guerillas.
Nemo took a bullet to his eye, which exited through his mouth.
Although he was severely wounded, he continued to fight the enemy, buying his equally wounded handler enough time to call for reinforcements.
When reinforcements came, Nemo was found lying on top of his unconscious handler, protecting him from harm. Fortunately, they both recovered from their injuries.
Nemo was then given a permanent retirement kennel at the Lackland Air Force Base where he served the rest of his life helping recruit working dogs.
A memorial was erected at Lackland in honor of his service. Apart from incredible bravery and heroism, Nemo’s story is a great example of the selfless love and loyalty dogs can have for their humans.
Cairo the SEAL Canine
Although there are several K9 heroes in recent years, few stand out more than Cairo. Cairo is the Belgian Malinois best known for his role in the Navy SEAL operation that raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound in 2011.
Although Cairo and his handler, Will Chesney, had been training together for a few months, they undoubtedly formed their unbreakable bond in 2009 when they were deployed to Afghanistan. The pair had successfully completed several missions and survived many dangerous engagements until Cairo was shot in the chest, severely wounded.
Thankfully, Cairo was loaded into a medevac, saved by a team of combat surgeons, and survived.
Years later, the pair took part in what is now known as Operation Neptune Spear. Cairo was the only dog in the team and helped clear the compound of threats so that the human SEALs could complete their mission.
He also kept a growing crowd at bay until the team could extricate themselves from the site. Much to the dismay of his handler, Cairo is the only member of the team that didn’t receive a Silver Star. Chesney, later on, released a book to honor Cairo’s legacy.
The book entitled “No Ordinary Dog: My Partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid” was an instant bestseller.
Ways to Honor K9 Heroes
K9 veterans deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. Here are some things you can do in their honor:
Donate to Worthy Causes
There are many organizations you can donate to in honor of military service dogs. You can donate money, volunteer your time, or help raise funds for charities that specifically help retired K9s and maybe even their handlers.
Several non-profits are dedicated to honoring military dogs. Among them are the US War Dog Association and the Warrior Dog Foundation.
Groups like these make sure that working dogs have what they need both while they’re in active duty as well as when they retire. There are also groups like Pets for Patriots that match shelter animals to retired military veterans and also provide support for veterans’ pets. Supporting such causes in honor of K9 vets is definitely a deed to be proud of.
Adopt a Retired K9
When they reach the end of their working life, military dogs are put up for adoption by the Department of Defense. Although their handlers are given first priority, that arrangement just doesn’t work out sometimes.
Retired K9s that aren’t adopted by previous handlers find loving families in civilian homes. Other than military dogs, there might also be retired police dogs and TSA dogs that need new homes.
Like retired military dogs, these pups are either often too old to continue working. Sometimes, adoptable working dogs are those that were trained but didn’t make the cut.
Other times, an illness or medical condition keeps them from pursuing their K9 careers. No matter their situation, adopting a K9 offers a chance to give a canine hero a safe and loving home until it’s time to cross the rainbow bridge.
Share Their Stories
There are literally thousands of dogs that are placed in danger for the benefit of the American people. The least we can do is share their stories and let others know about the awesome work that these hero dogs are doing for the country so that they may be honored and appreciated by more people.
Telling the tales of remarkable working dogs also helps give them a better life. The more people appreciate military and police dogs, the more people look out for their welfare.
Robby’s Law, for example, was enacted because of the concerted effort of informed dog lovers to give retired military dogs a happy ending. Ultimately, sharing their stories will help give them and all future working dogs a better life.
Celebrate K9 Veterans Day with your dog and show your love in ways they understand. Whether they help you out with chores or simply give you loads of affection, your dog is definitely a hero in your own household.
They might not be a battle-proven K9, but they’re a testament to the loyalty and giving nature of dogs that we celebrate on this day.
Happy K9 Veterans Day!