Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Soldier Dogs: Saving Lives and Capturing Bad Guys

    Cairo, a dog--specifically a Beligian Malinois, was probably the last dog Osama Bin Laden ever saw. If he even had a chance to see this soldier dog, as a stealthy Special Forces operation took him down. I had missed this news item last year but read of this dog, and other amazing dogs assisting all branches of the Armed Forces in  Soldier Dog: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage.
    Dogs have been accompanying soldiers since war began. During the American Revolution at the Batttle of Gemantown in October 1777, a little terrier was found between American and British lines. He was wearing a collar that identified him as belonging to the British general, General Howe. George Washington, called a cease fire and returned the dog to the enemy general, with a note attached to his collar. "Howe was so impressed by Washington's honor that he began to take a more compassionate view of the colonists, and eventually resigned his post." (Goodavage, 224)
    The author of this amazing book shares so many fascinating stories and facts of amazing military war dogs. Dogs have provided more than just companionship to soldiers in the field. Their amazing noses (some 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own) are instrumental in detecting the horrific IED explosive devices that are unfortunately all too common in war zones. The US Armed Forces deploy many dogs who have saved countless lives with their special skill sets. There are even CTD dogs, that can detect not only the explosive but follow the trail of the scent left by the insurgent (up to four days old) and actually identify the insurgent that placed the explosive! Amazing! 
   The dog's fellow soldiers, particularly their handlers, have a deep respect for what these dogs accomplish. Unfortunately with all the budget cuts, the war dog training programs are in danger of being cut. How can that be, when one dog detecting an explosive saves so many human lives? After Vietnam these military working dogs were left behind, these days there is an adoption program for these heroic dogs to live out their retirement days on a couch in a loving home. Dogs are considered equipment by the military, but to the soldiers whose lives they save on a daily basis they are considered fellow soldiers in arms.
   Dogs and their handlers have died, and even been targeted by insurgents, while performing their life saving missions. They have saved so many civilian and military lives doing their job for the love of their handler and the opportunity to play with a Kong toy or tennis ball after they find their quarry. Handlers will shave their dogs front paws while in the field, because they will work themselves to the point of death from heat stroke. The dog will be carried to shelter and  life saving IV fluids started by their handlers. 114 degree working conditions on burned paws while wearing a fur coat is not a walk in the park.
   The stress of war is not just felt on the humans. Dogs, too, can suffer from PTSD . Some breeds suffer disproportionately, ie. labrador retrievers. It is estimated 5-15 percent of dogs suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. The breed that was involved in the Special Forces raid on Bin Laden is less prone to suffering from PTSD, and this and German shepherds have formed the bulk of the dogs that are patrolling (not just sniffing, as other breeds). Countless human lives saved by man's best friend; clearly mankind has gotten the better end of the relationship.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games

The movie has been released based on the best selling book by Suzanne Collins. I always try to read the book before seeing the movie, and this is supposed to be a good one. So, I figured I would pick up the book prior to this week's release of the movie. I had first heard of the books a year ago but the story line put me off. Who would want to read about starving teens forced to fight? I read the first book, "The Hunger Games" and the following two books within forty eight hours.

This powerful mix of familiar themes makes quick reading for a wide range of audiences. There is familiar coliseum style fighting (to the death sponsored by a corrupt government) as in "The Running Man" movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The heroine of the book is a strong 15 year old female, and there is a love triangle as in the "Twilight" series. Reality show programming, and the jaded, well fed, couch sitting American public oblivious to the world's problems is a deeper theme. All put together, it just works superbly well in the hands of author Suzanne Collins.