Megan Leavey explores the powerful bond between a young marine (played by Kate Mara) and Rex, the military dog she accompanied on multiple tours in Iraq. With Leavey as his handler, Rex completed umpteen missions, often scouting conflict areas to sniff out possible explosives before troops arrived. His efforts undoubtedly saved scores of lives, as well as preventing catastrophic injuries to soldiers from IEDs. Rex joins a long line of remarkable canines whose service, courage, and loyalty shines as an example for all. We spotlight other courageous canines here.
Chips, who was loaned out to the war effort by the Wren family of Pleasantville, NY, in 1942, would go on not only to make his family and hometown proud, but the entire nation as well. Soon after Dogs for Defense asked Americans to provide their pets for military service, the high-spirited German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix joined the ranks of the Army. Paired with Private John P. Rowell, Chips served loyally as a sentry in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. It was his actions in Sicily, however, that made him famous. After he and his handler were pinned down by machine-gun fire, Chips dove into the concrete pillbox, attacking the four soldiers inside. Wounded in battle, Chips recovered and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star. His public fame and military distinction unfortunately brought him unwanted attention from people who complained his medals diminished the heroic efforts of human soldiers. In the end, he returned home to Pleasantville and the love of his family without any ribbons of distinction. In 1990, his story was turned into the TV film, Chips, the War Dog.
But soon they were following him. His high-pitched hearing caught the whine of artillery long before his human friends could hear it. After being poisoned by mustard gas, Stubby used his incredible faculty of smell to warn others of a potential attack. His troop rewarded him by crafting a special gas mask just for him. During the war, Stubby did whatever he could, from keeping morale up and locating wounding soldiers to even capturing a German spy. Afterwards, he returned a celebrity, leading parades, meeting with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren G. Harding, and inspiring no less than four books. Even today his spirit lives on. Next year, he’ll be the subject of the animated feature, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, with Logan Lerman providing the voice of Robert Conroy.
A stray discovered by soldiers training at fields outside Yale University in 1917 went on to become one of the most honored soldiers of World War I. While in New Haven, the playful pup called Stubby endeared himself to Corporal Robert Conroy, who smuggled him aboard their boat before his unit shipped out to Europe. In France, Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry Regiment alongside Conroy for 18 months. Untrained as a soldier, Stubby not only caught on, but exceled in the ways of battle. He learned to dive into the trenches when bombing began by following the example of other soldiers.
Nemo became a paradigm of courage and devotion for saving his handler’s life during the Vietnam War. In 1964, the German Shepherd was two years old when he went through the Air Force’s eight-week training course. Two years later he was shipped off to Vietnam. Assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Nemo was paired with Airman Robert Throneburg with whom he went on regular sentry patrols around the encampment. In 1966, the two were outside the camp’s perimeter when enemy soldiers began firing on them. After Throneburg commanded Nemo to attack, he was seriously shot. His dog continued to fight off the Viet Cong soldiers, getting shot himself in the process. When Nemo realized that his handler was down, he crawled back to Throneburg, guarding him until medics could arrive to treat the airman’s injuries. Nemo was also treated and attempted to resume his guard duties, but his injuries ultimately proved too severe. Nemo was eventually sent back to the United States, where he was teamed up with Captain Robert Sullivan, who was setting up the working dog program at Lackland Air Force Base, to tour the country and promote canine recruitment. “I can't help feeling a little emotional about this dog,” Sullivan acknowledged. “He shows how valuable a dog is to his handler in staying alive."
While some dogs serve in war, others demonstrate their courage in natural disasters. In 2005, as Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the area around it, one man’s life was saved by the brave actions of a black Labrador, who was later renamed Katrina by the man who adopted her. Katrina dove into the waters, pulling the man to shore, before being saved herself. Back on land the man gratefully acknowledged how the dog had saved his life. On March 18, 2006, Katrina (the dog) was signaled out during the Humane Society’s Genesis Awards in a segment on “The Heroes of Katrina.” She received a standing ovation.
A Belgian Malinois, similar to Cairo
When news organizations reported the successful assault on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in 2011, only one soldier was mentioned, a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. On May 2, Cairo was aboard the Black Hawk helicopter with 23 Navy SEALs that landed in a remote area of Pakistan. During the previous month, Cairo had trained with his team in the deserts of Nevada to simulate the conditions they would encounter for this important mission. On that fateful night, Cairo worked with several SEALs to monitor the perimeter of the estate that housed Bin Laden, as others entered the home to complete their mission. A few days later, when President Obama was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to honor the SEAL Team Six members responsible for the assault, he took time to meet––and pet––Cairo. As much as people have wanted to honor Cairo, his identity, like those of his fellow team members, remains a matter of national security.
For an essay honoring his dog, James Symington wrote, “Once in a lifetime, a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches, but also plays a private role in history.” That dog was Trakr, a German Shepherd who moved from the Czech Republic to work as a police dog for six years in Halifax, Canada. When Symington saw the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, he grabbed Trakr and drove for 14 hours to help with the search-and-rescue efforts at Ground Zero. Early the next morning, the German Shepherd signaled that he’d found something. Under 30 feet of tangled rubble, fire fighters rescued Genelle Guzman, who’d been buried for nearly 26 hours. She would be the last survivor of that terrible tragedy. After being treated for smoke inhalation and burns, Trakr returned with Symington to Canada, where 7 years later he would be justly honored for a lifetime of service. Symington’s essay about his dog won the BioArts International “Best Friends Again” contest which sought to find the most clone-worthy canine to honor. Shortly after Trakr died in 2009, Symington received five puppies, all genetic clones of their heroic dad.