Labor Day pays tribute to American workers, but often overlooked are the many animals dedicated to saving, protecting and defending us humans.
And they never complain. Dogs are among the most enthusiastic of workers.
"To the dogs, it's all play and they do it for the ball, the tug-of-war, or the affection they get when they've finished playing," says Sgt. Andre Peters, military working-dog trainer at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Along with the military, dogs work in law enforcement, search and rescue, and as assistants to individuals with special needs. But the fastest-growing job market is the military, where 2,600 dogs are employed.
"Military working dogs are amazing," says Maj. April Ulmer, a veterinarian with the Army Veterinary Corps. "Like so many whose job it is to protect us, their work is underappreciated by virtue of the fact that it's the millions of lives they save that we don't hear about. It's the bomb they find in a car parked on the side of the road that didn't go off that we never hear about."
Demand for canine colleagues is high because dogs can do so many things that people can't, according to an Air Force News article by Lt. Col. Robert Vogelsang, director of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
"No matter how much money they put into the electronic sniffing machine, it just hasn't worked," he wrote. "There just isn't anything more efficient, or more economical than a dog."
Dogs have been used in the military for generations; the first official canine corps formed during World War II, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Primarily the dogs are used for patrol and detection duty. Patrol includes finding people and protecting soldiers, and detection covers sniffing out drugs and bombs or people who have planted bombs.
One rapidly emerging focus in today's military is on the behavioral and emotional health of the soldiers and their dogs. Combat stress team dogs are used to comfort soldiers and therapy dogs make visits to military hospitals.
MacDill has a 12-dog kennel for its Military Working Dog (MWD) division. Five of those dogs are deployed to undisclosed locations in Iraq and Afghanistan; two more will be deployed soon.
Robbie, a German shepherd, has been a member of the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill since 2005. He and his handler, Sgt. Ricky Glass, conduct random inspections of vehicles entering the base.
Write to pet-lifestyle expert Kristen Levine at Fetching Communications, P.O. Box 222, Tarpon Springs FL 34688; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
DOGS IN UNIFORM
All U.S. military dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Most of today's military dogs come from Europe.
Civilian "volunteer" dogs are considered for service, as long as they meet standards.
Primary breeds used are German shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Dutch shepherd and Labrador retriever. Smaller breeds are used by the Navy because of the limited space aboard ships.
Retired dogs are sometimes available for adoption. Visit www.militaryworkingdogs.com for information.
Source: Military Working Dog Foundation, www.militaryworkingdogs.com