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Norwich Bulletin - 7/4/2010

The American Revolution and Man's Best Friend

George Washington was a real dog lover. It is thought that he owned almost fifty dogs during his lifetime. In fact, when he went off to fight the Revolutionary War, he brought along one of his own dogs, Sweetlips. During the Revolution, dogs oftentimes accompanied their masters into battle. They were a very important part of a soldier’s life as they provided companionship, protection against wild animals, and they could also help to hunt food.

The Battle of Germantown left a lot of wounded and dead soldiers across the battlefield. Afterwards, General Washington came across a little dog of unknown origin, wandering around. He was very friendly and he was wearing a collar and a tag. It was quite a surprise to learn that the pooch belonged to the enemy – British General William Howe!

The American Soldiers wanted to keep the dog as a war prize, but Washington refused, saying that Americans were people of honor and the little canine was not their enemy. He decided to return the dog to General Howe. He just had to figure out how he was going to do that. Washington had Alexander Hamilton (at that time, his aide-de-camp) write a note to General Howe. The note was tucked into the dog’s collar and a truce was then arranged where both sides flew white flags. With all fighting stopped, the dog was delivered to the side of the British.

When General Howe got his dog back, he was very impressed by Washington’s honorable act. When he removed the dog’s collar he read the following note: “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe”

It is said by historians that from that day on, General Howe seemed to show more compassion toward the colonists. And when he was asked to fight longer and harder against the Americans, he resigned. Such a small random act of kindness, the return of an animal companion, did have an impact on the Revolutionary War.

On this Fourth of July, let’s salute not only our own George Washington, but also the general from the other side of the battlefield, and one little dog.

Military Dogs have had something to do with our history since the Revolutionary War. As I said, many soldiers brought their own faithful companions with them when they went off to war for a variety of reasons.

During the Civil War, dogs went up a notch; besides being companions and mascots, they were also used for sentry duty and to guard the prisoners. And during the Spanish-American War, dogs were used to alert the troops to guerilla ambushes. And yet, as useful as dogs were shown to be, the United States still didn’t figure out they should implement some type of military dog program. The English did beat the US to it.

During World War I, at first the only dogs that were used were sled dogs from Alaska and they were mainly used to haul ammunition to the Mountains and to pull carts loaded with military hardware. But as the War progressed, many countries began to see how important and useful the dog could actually be, and dogs ended up saving many lives. There were dogs used as sentries and messengers, as well as red cross dogs and ambulance dogs (draft dogs who hauled medical supplies).

After seeing what important roles that they played in World War I, America got serious about using dogs during World War II. This is the era when we started to refer to our military dogs as K-9’s. After Pearl Harbor there were dog enthusiasts who pushed for sentry dogs – insisting that a sentry dog was better than eight human guards. They could hear better and could sound an alarm that everyone could hear. An organization by the name of “Dogs for Defense” was born, and it was made up of civilian breeders and dog trainers. Their first task was a sentry dog program that was very successful in starting America to use military working dogs. In fact, the Coast Guard used more than 3,000 sentry dogs to keep America’s shores safe from another foreign invasion.

The Scout Dog program was also started and these canines were very effective in the South Pacific. And with the end of the war, interest did not wane when it came to sentry dogs. When the US entered the Korean War, they brought with them over 100 sentry dogs and a scout dog. The army began to dismantle their dog program after the Korean War, and it was then that the Air Force took over the program. Air bases and missile sites were now protected by sentry dogs.

Vietnam brought the finishing touches on the military dog – they replaced sentry dogs with patrol dogs as these dogs were more like police or highly trained protection dogs and they were more manageable. They were sued as scouts and the newly trained mine detector dogs and tunnel dogs were introduced during this war. They also developed the military tracker dog to hunt down the enemy.

Throughout history, there has been war. And in every war, the dog has truly been man’s best friend. This tradition continues today in the Middle East. But how nice it would be if war would end and our men and dogs could finally come home and live in peace.

Happy Fourth of July – celebrate and cherish our freedom.

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