- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
There have been quite a few headlines circulating recently about war-zone dogs in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and not all of it is cheery news.
Baghdad city officials are in the process of carrying out a campaign to rid the city of its stray-dog population which, at an estimated and unwieldy 1.25 million, poses numerous health and safety hazards to the civilian population. Reports say that upwards of 58,000 have been killed in just the last three months and these teams — consisting of city officials and veterinarians — are averaging 2,400 kills per day.
The details of these efforts are grim — the dogs are poisoned or shot point blank — not an easy thing to watch. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has spoken out against the population control efforts — like the one in Baghdad — calling the methods inhumane killing sprees. Officials, citing the families that fear for the safety of their young children, say that they’re open to assistance but don’t have the resources necessary to tranquilize the dogs so they can be humanely euthanized.
As we’ve discussed in this series, U.S. soldiers don’t just forge bonds with military-trained dogs — more often than not it’s the strays who gain the soldiers’ affection, even if it’s against regulation to keep them, or any other kind of pets, on base. (In the Iraqi war zone it’s “a crime on par with using illegal drugs.”) And while it’s not uncommon for higher-ups to turn a blind eye to unauthorized animals on bases, especially during war, if discovered these animals are removed and destroyed.
Stories of soldiers being separated from their beloved pets after their deployment is over has moved individuals and organizations alike to take grand measures to ensure that war-zone strays can stay with the soldiers who love them. The SPCA, for instance, has a program called Operation Baghdad Pups which accepts donations towards coordinating complicated “logistics and transportation requirements in order to reunite these beloved pets with their service men and women back in the U.S.” (Its website hosts hundreds of photos of dogs and cats with names like Daisy and General George Patton along with the soldiers who kept them.)
But though the risks are legitimate — animals spreading disease or endangering military dogs on bases — as are concerns over the sometimes exorbitant costs and extreme measures employed to transport these animals overseas, I’m hard pressed to summarily dismiss the benefits of adopting war-zone strays and all they offer our soldiers in combat. How can we deny the fortifying effect and protective presence war dogs have when it is so plainly evident and worthy?
I’m curious to hear, what do readers think?
Bonus: The Discovery Channel’s website has a video series on the individual stores from the animals brought out of Iraq by the SPCA’s program called: No Dog Left Behind