Aug 28

A Sailor’s Best Friend: Dogs in the Military

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 11:17 AM

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While working on the U.S. Naval Institute’s photo digitization project, I happened upon a folder of photographs filled with something that always brings joy to my heart: Dogs! It may be a few days after the official National Dog Day, but for dog lover’s, every day is for the dogs, and I thought I’d use today to share some history on dogs in the military.

A dog named Rickey, ready for duty!

A dog named Rickey, ready for duty!

We know that dogs have been keeping us company since before 10,000 BCE. By becoming our companions, dogs also became our allies against our enemies, whether they be the animals early man hunted, or men from other tribes or countries. Most early accounts of dogs in warfare record dogs used to attack and break enemy lines before the first charge (such as in the mid-7th century BCE war waged by the Ephesians), but the tasks dogs have been assigned throughout the centuries have been as varied as the breeds of dogs today. For example, in 525 BCE at the Battle of Pelusium, the Achaemenid Empire put dogs at the front lines of their army as a psychological tactic against the Egyptians, taking advantage of their religious reverence for animals. Dogs have also been used for delivering messages and explosives, detecting mines and booby traps, scouting, sentry work, medical research, and transportation.

A New Zealand sled team arriving at Huff Point, Antartica to visit the USS Arneb (AKA-56), 1959.

A New Zealand sled team arriving at Huff Point, Antartica to visit the men of the USS Arneb (AKA-56), 1959.

While some of these jobs have become obsolete through the years — we rarely send dogs into frontline positions anymore (thank goodness) — Military Working Dogs still have an active role in the United States military today. The best job, in my opinion, that dogs have ever had in the military? The mascot, of course!

The custom of adopting mascots originated from troops bringing a pet to war, adopting one at the place they were stationed, or being presented a pet as a gift. Some units choose to keep a specific breed of dog — for example, the US Marine Corps have had bulldogs as their official mascot breed since 1922 — and adopt another of that breed after the former passes.

Teufelhund, mascot of the the USMC, in full uniform.

Teufelhund, mascot of the the USMC, in full uniform.

The main job of a mascot is to uplift morale of servicemen. Now I, personally, have never been in a situation as stressful as warfare, but I have felt anxieties and stresses in my own everyday life. Nothing is better than seeing how excited my own dog is to play with me when I get home, and snuggling with her after a long day. Seeing how my dog boosts my morale, I can only imagine what a soothing salve a mascot could be to a stressed soldier in times of war.

That morale boost wasn’t always in times of stress, though. Mascots were with their unit at all times, and there often can be lulls in action. One sailor must have had some time on his hands when he created the ID card for Apache, a World War II Navy Mascot.

Mascot Card for U.S. Navy Mascot Apache

Mascot Card for U.S. Navy Mascot Apache

Or when this beautiful pup, Musume, got a smart haircut at the barber shop aboard the USS Prairie (AD-15) in the Pacific, 1951.

Musume receiving a haircut from Seaman Glenn Lowery, USN, aboard the USS Prairie (AD-15).

Musume receiving a haircut from Seaman Glenn Lowery, USN, aboard the USS Prairie (AD-15).

Dog mascots helped sailors pass the time, and gave them comfort in times of need. Not every day can be a good one when you’re far from home, but it gives me joy to know that there were brave pups that made servicemen’s time away a little brighter. Happy belated National Dog Day!

Scoop, mascot of the Korea Bureau of Stars and Stripes personnel, writing a much better article than I could ever hope to, 1950.

Scoop, mascot of the Korea Bureau of Stars and Stripes personnel, writing a much cuter article than I could ever hope to, 1950.