Danielle M. Eriksen: America’s dogs of war should be celebrated as heroes

  • U.S. Marine Cpl. Abraham Willis and his IED detection dog, Preacher, ride in the back of a wagon as they are shuttled over a bridge for a foot patrol at sunrise in Kajaki, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on July 29, 2011. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 8/10/2016 12:20:09 AM

America recently lost a valiant combat veteran. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was a member of the elite Navy SEAL team that conducted Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Cairo flew with the SEAL team in an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter under the cover of night, was strapped to his handler as he fast-roped to the ground, and helped secure the perimeter of Osama bin Laden’s hideout with four Navy SEALs and a translator while the rest of the SEAL team infiltrated the compound.

Had they not been successful in finding bin Laden, Cairo would have been called upon to search for hidden walls and underground sanctuaries.

If you haven’t read the excellent piece that was published five years ago in the New Yorker about the mission, it’s worth the read.

Recorded history shows the use of dogs of war going back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Attila the Hun were among the many who used trained dogs in battle. It’s said that more than a million dogs (from both sides) died during World War I. During World War II, more than 10,000 dogs joined the war effort – many family pets were donated, and served as sentries, scouts, mine detectors or messengers.

The Vietnam War brought a dark era for military working dogs; even though it is estimated that the dogs saved the lives of more than 10,000 soldiers, some dogs came home, but the majority were euthanized or left behind at the end of the war.

Late last year, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill into law which heralded a new era in the treatment of our canine heroes, who don’t volunteer for the job.

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act guarantees all military service dogs transport home to the United States. It also gives their military handlers, who served alongside them, the first rights to adopt the dogs upon their retirement.

Modern military working dogs are deployed for a number of functions. Many MWDs are used exclusively for scent work, such as explosives or narcotics detection. (Interestingly, it’s never both; a handler needs to know for sure whether his or her dog is alerting to a stash of heroin or a buried IED.) Other dogs are trained to track humans, some are trained to apprehend suspects. Recognizing the value dogs have to help relieve stress, the military even has some dogs deployed as therapy dogs.

Cairo was a “multi-purpose canine,” or MPC. According to the Navy SEAL Museum website, “Unlike typical service dogs who are trained for one job, SEAL MPCs work on patrols, can track and attack, clear buildings, sniff out explosives and fast rope from helicopters. SEAL canines go through training every bit as rigorous as that of their human handlers.”

MPC Cairo completed deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired with his handler to San Diego, and shared a home with a beagle.

On the Military Working Dogs Facebook page, Cairo’s handler included this in his tribute: “Aside from saving lives and limbs by detecting IEDs, Cairo was just one of the guys. He was always interactive and would quickly lean in for a good back scratch. Cairo had the unique ability to work in highly intense situations and in the very same evening, cuddle up under a shared blanket with his handler. Words simply do not exist to describe the feelings I have for Cairo. He has done so much for so many.”

Cairo will be remembered by a grateful nation as an extraordinary dog.

Cairo was 12 years old when he died. My deepest sympathy goes out to his handler. I thank you both for your service.

Rest in peace, Cairo. Rest in peace.

(Danielle M. Eriksen lives in Weare.)

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