Thanks, “This American Life”: Break your heart with stories of WWII soldier dogs  »

This American Life
's most recent show is called “Animal Sacrifice,” and its first act features Susan Orlean reporting on World War II soldier dogs, expanded from her book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. The U.S. military had a program where they recruited citizens’ pet dogs to serve. Like, one day your dog is performing Houdini-style escapes from every confinement you try to impose on her; the next, she’s flushing enemy soldiers out of caves in the Solomon Islands.

Here’s a training video, starring the cutest little terrier you ever saw.

[Can’t see the video? Watch it on]

In light of the army’s latest findings on canine PTSD, this story is especially heartbreaking. Many of the dogs who weren’t killed in action had such bad PTSD they couldn’t be returned to their civilian families after the war, and so were euthanized. The use of dogs in service continues today, but at least now there are options beyond killing a dog we forced to undergo personality-altering trauma. Still, if we’re going to have robots in war, can we make some to replace the canines? It’s appalling, the sacrifices we ask of dogs, things we have no right to demand of them.

[photo from the national archives via TAL]


War is unbearable: Canine PTSD is real  »

The LA Times has a detailed, depressing article about the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in dogs deployed in combat patrols. What do you know: “Dogs experience combat just like humans,” and they experience PTSD like people, too.

The article focuses on a Belgian Malinois named Cora, who returned two years ago from several tours of duty in Iraq, suffering serious behavioral problems. She was diagnosed with canine PTSD, and is undergoing rehab in Yuma, Ariz.

Calling Cora’s condition canine PTSD drives home a point that [Chief of behavioral medicine and military working-dog studies at Lackland Air Force Base Walter] Burghardt feels is key: “This is something that does not get better without intervention.”

Two factors slowed down the decision to label canine PTSD. For one, Burghardt and others did not want to suggest disrespect for the military personnel who have been diagnosed with the disorder.

Second is the problem faced by any veterinarian. “You can’t ask them questions,” Burghardt said.

The Times also has a photo gallery of military dogs you might want to check out. We understand much more about the dogs we use in war, and the terrible consequences they can suffer alongside the soldiers who work with them. War is unbearable for every being involved in it, whether deliberately or involuntarily, and we need to treat all our veterans with respect and care.

[Photos, from top: U.S. Army, Beverly & Pack, both via Flickr]

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