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National Museum of Animals & Society Blog
You may have heard by now that Osama bin Laden was captured by 79 Navy Seals and one famous, although anonymous dog. Details on the canine – name, age, breed – have been withheld, but he or she is likely a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois and others have speculated a Newfoundland, trained to sniff out bombs and individuals in hiding and catch runaway suspects. Using these breeds in America became much more of an official trend after World War II.
At the beginning of WWII, the United States, unlike Germany and Japan, did not have official canine training camps to aid in its war effort. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Association launched “Dogs for Defense,” an orchestrated campaign to recruit Spot, Rover and Fido, the household animal companions of millions of Americans, to serve in the War. Regional offices and training centers opened across the country. Trainers donated their time and skills to ready dogs for sentry work, patrolling, messenger services, and mine detection.
Of the 10,425 dogs trained during World War II, ~9,300 were for sentry duty. Less than 2,000 dogs were shipped abroad. Four of the 549 dogs that returned from the war were unable to be untrained and returned to civilian life. Many military dogs went home with their handlers instead of their pre-war families. A significant number also lost their lives or were left behind.
Due to the number of donated dogs found unsuitable for military work, the practice of acquiring dogs from patriotic citizens ceased in 1946. The decision was made to instead purchase dogs that would then become property of the Federal Government. In 2000, H.R. 5314 passed allowing civilians to adopt retiring military working dogs. Perhaps the unknown canine who found Osama will be enrolled in an adoption program following his service.
If you’re interested in becoming a guardian to a retired military canine, visit the Military Working Dog Foundation.