America’s Memorial Day arrives on Monday, May 28. This is a time to remember the sacrifice of the country’s military men and women, those who gave the ultimate – their very lives. Over the course of time, more than 600,000 service men and women have died during times of war, including more than 2,200 in Afghanistan, more than 58,000 in the Vietnam War, nearly 37,000 in Korea, and more than 530,000 during World Wars 1 and 2. In addition to military personnel, civilians were also killed during these conflicts.
Animals have been, and still are, used during wartime. Horses and dogs have primarily served, and plentiful numbers of them have lost their lives. Other animal species, including pigeons, dolphins, camels, and mules have also served during wartime. Some carried messages, some carried humans – all have worked, and continue to work, in service to their country’s forces. They are often the unsung heroes of war. The U.S. War Dog Memorial, located in New Jersey, was originally established in 2006 to honor dogs and their handlers of the Vietnam War. However, it’s become the symbol of dogs who have served, and continue to serve, the U.S. military in all conflicts. Some states, including Tennessee and Colorado, also have, or plan to have, a war dog memorial.
Times of war are not the only time that animals serve and are looked upon as heroes. There are plenty of incidents in which dogs, cats, and other animals have saved humans. For example, Kahn, a Doberman who had only been with his adopted family for a few days, saved a toddler from a snake, and Pudding, a rescued cat, who saved his owner experiencing a diabetic seizure. Animals save people from drowning, from intruders, and from illness and accidents. Many do these heroic acts at the cost of their own lives, including K9 police dogs and military service dogs.
As we take time during Memorial Day weekend, especially on the day itself, to remember the people who gave their lives for our country and our freedoms (and the freedoms of others), let us also remember the numerous animal who also have given their lives in service. Whether in the military, on police forces, or living in homes with human families, these animals showcase devotion, loyalty, love, and friendship – character traits of noble and beloved animal heroes.
The American Humane Association presents the Hero Dog Award later this year. Visit their website to learn more about the dogs up for the award in 2018; you can cast your vote before July 11, 2018: http://herodogawards.org/vote/.
They conduct search and rescue. They serve in the military. They lead the blind and alert the hard-of-hearing. They comfort people in crisis, visit the hospitalized and those in hospice care; they even provide a soothing balm for us, their guardians. They survive abuse and neglect to become someone’s beloved pets. They are animal heroes!
Images of the dogs searching for the trapped and injured on 9/11 and during last week’s earthquake in Mexico resonate in our hearts and souls. From fires in homes and cresting ocean waves to hospital rooms and school bullying problems, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs and other animals provide rescue, comfort, security, and therapy to many humans, their own as well as strangers. From the military veteran suffering from PTSD or physical disability to the child lost in the woods or the trapped earthquake victim, animals respond to the needs of people as they fulfill their roles of service, comfort or search and rescue. They are K-9 officers protecting communities and military service dogs sniffing out bombs and bad guys.
Every fall, the American Humane Association partners with the Hallmark Channel to present The Hero Dog Awards. From a service dog named Roselle who guided her blind owner and others out of a building during 911 to an abused pit bull named Hooch, canines have been celebrated for their heroic story for more than five years – and their stories tug at the heartstrings!
This year’s Hero Dog Award winner’s story is no different. American Humane recently announced the 2017 winner: a one-eared pit bull named Abigail. A dog-fighting survivor who was rescued after nearly being euthanized, Abigail is a “spokesdog” for dog-fighting rescues and for forgiveness and second chances. She’s also a fashionista, thanks to her human-mom who dresses her in scarves and headbands to help cover some of her scars. Many nominated Hero Dogs have overcome the odds of abuse or neglect.
Cats are also known to be heroes. Last year the BBC reported on several cat heroes, including one that detected cancer in her special human and another who came to the rescue of the young boys he lives with.
Hero animals – whether they do incredible feats of bravery or are simply the companions of the household, they all deserve to be called the Heroes of Our Hearts!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.