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/.
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.