Man and dog have stood side by side for thousands of years. A relationship between two species like no other, dogs have loyally guarded us, hunted with us and fought beside us. There are accounts of dogs being used in ancient battles, charging in to the enemy to break up a line of defence making soldier attacks more likely to be successful, or reducing casualties. Dogs have had careers in the military for a long time. These serving dogs cause division between the animal loving public. Are they heroes or tools?
When polled, 74% of respondents said that they did not think dogs should be used by the military or police. Feelings were mixed though as several people said that they felt comfortable with dogs being used in non active positions only. These people found search and rescue and scent detection roles acceptable & frontline work where their lives were at risk was not accepted. Others were comfortable with all uses of dogs in service stating that dogs need to work and that they save human lives by engaging in these roles.
With safety a concern for some of our respondents, how safe are dogs in service? Some people said that they felt dogs were well looked after and unlikely to come to any harm while on active duty. How true is this? Looking back at the very earliest records of dogs in war, they charged in to battle with humans as in the picture above. Ancient Greeks on foot or horseback with shields & swords, dogs, unprotected running alongside them. That looks pretty scary to me for both parties.
In modern times dogs have been used in far less brutal ways. During world war 1 they were harnessed to wagons which pulled guns. They were used to help carry the injured on stretchers. Their smaller size meant that they ate less than horses so were considered to be a better option. Dogs were trained to locate injured soldiers, some had medical kits attached to them which the soldiers could use while waiting for their fellow soldiers to bring them back to camp. I am sure this was very comforting for the injured soldier.
Another area dogs have been used in is communications. Notes passed from one location to another was vital to keep soldiers informed, dogs were trained to work with two soldiers. The note giver & the note receiver. Mascots were popular with the soldiers. They boosted morale and could sometimes double up as ratters. The trenches were full of them during WW1, causing misery for the men. It would appear that the dogs were very well looked after but seeing a picture of a terrier wearing a gas mask makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Things start getting very uncomfortable when you dig beneath the feel good stories of heroic deeds dogs did which saved the lives of countless humans during war time. One of the most disturbing reports is one of experimentation. During WWI a series of experiments were carried out. Trenches played a key role in protecting soldiers on the front line. It was important that their structure protected the men as much as possible. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that some dead soldiers dying in blasts were sometimes found with whole bodies and that they had drowned in their blood in response to artillery air concussions. Unable to experiment with people, attention was turned to the dogs. Different bomb weights were detonated with the dogs in the trenches to test the amount of damage to the dogs. Death, severe injury, moderate injury and so on. The engineers used the information gathered to modify trench building. Hardly a way to treat war heroes. Dogs were also used to measure the efficiency of mustard, chlorine and phosgene gases.