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5 facts about military canines

Austin Klinkhammer, a Navy master-at-arms 2nd class, and Toto, a military working dog, participate in a training exercise at a base in Naples, Italy, in May. Image: U.S. Navy

To help mark this week’s release of the Military Working Dogs stamps, here are five facts about the nation’s combat canines.

1. There are approximately 2,300 military working dogs currently in service. Canines have been officially supporting American military operations since World War II. Today, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, the Air Force provides training to all military working dogs used in patrol, drug and explosive detection, and specialized mission functions for the Defense Department.

2. Civilians help train military dogs. At the age of eight weeks, puppies go home with qualified “foster” volunteers from the San Antonio and Austin, TX, areas. During this period, the pups are raised in secure, nurturing homes that provide learning and play opportunities, as well as outings for the puppies to be exposed to different environments and people.

3. Owners volunteered their dogs for service in World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, civilian dog owners took pride in contributing to the nation’s war effort by donating their pooches to the military. Through the Dogs for Defense program, the military acquired and trained thousands of dogs for use as sentries, scouts and messengers. Some dogs returned home to their owners as heroes.

4. There is an official military working dog teams memorial in Texas. While there are memorials to “war dogs” across the nation, the U.S. military dedicated the first national monument to the sacrifices of working dogs and their handlers in 2013. Located in San Antonio and inscribed with the words “Guardians of America’s Freedom,” the monument features bronze statues of four dog breeds used by the military.

5. When working dogs retire, they can be adopted. When dogs become too old or physically unfit for service, they are put up for adoption. The dogs are usually adopted by a former handler but they can also find homes with members of the public.

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