Friday, June 8, 2012

THE DOGS OF WAR

Review of THE DOGS OF WAR by LISA ROGAK

If there's one thing that rivals my love of books that would be my love of dogs. I've raised three Guide Dogs for the Blind and worked in a training intensive doggie day care. So when I saw this book about military working dogs, I snatched it up. I don't know much about MWDs, but I do have a good idea about dogs' capabilities and know they far exceed most people's expectations...in this case, even my own!

The doggie hero Stubby is a perfect example. Originally a stray, this little terrier mix bonded with some military personnel. After hanging around military units, Stubby even learned to mimic them: he marched in formation with soldiers, howled with bugle calls, and even learned a doggie salute for which he brought his right paw up by his cheek. When a soldier snuck Stubby aboard a ship during World War I, his superior caught them both but allowed Stubby to stay when the little dog saluted him. While Rogak shares a few amusing stories about this dog’s impressive feats, perhaps the most incredible was when he caught and detained a German spy!

Nor is Stubby the only notable case found here. This book is stuffed with accounts about military working dogs saving one to hundreds of lives. By detecting bombs that humans didn’t notice. By detaining suicide bombers to prevent them reaching highly populated locations. By forcing fellow soldiers out of the way of a bullet or bomb that they didn’t see or hear coming. Even by staying with, and protecting, the body of a dead soldier until someone can reach them.

Originally the dog trainer in me picked up this book eager to learn how exactly one trains a dog to do such astonishing acts. The book didn’t go into that much depth regarding actual training, perhaps for confidentiality reasons, but it’s still fascinating to learn what the dogs are trained to do. I especially liked learning the particulars about what dogs can offer military or law personnel that a human simply cannot replicate. Such as sniffing out a single ounce of cocaine on a plane with the capacity to hold forty-two thousand pounds. Or hearing footsteps of someone approaching even when they’re right next to a fighter jet taking off.

Unfortunately, this still remains a bittersweet book. While I found it uplifting overall, proof that we should look to dogs for an understanding of selfless loyalty and unrestrained affection, it is a book about military workings dogs. Translation: keep the tissues nearby for those stories of sacrifice. (Or even more preferable, curl up with a canine companion happy to offer sloppy kisses as needed.)

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