|MA 1 First Class Shannon Golden with MWD Talpi|
On average they each save 150 fellow soldiers’ lives during their careers, according to military sources. They sniff out bombs and hidden combatants. They can parachute, they can rappel, and they can swim.
They provide an invaluable sense of security and peace of mind to the troops with whom they serve, along with things perhaps even more precious: affection, amusement, and, in the words of one soldier, “a little bit of home.”
Who are these dynamos? A few hints: they wear fur, walk on all fours, and they ask their country for very little in return for their selfless service.
They are called Military Working Dogs, or MWDs.
‘Incredibly valuable resource’
One particularly famous MWD named Cairo helped in the raid on Osama bin Ladin’s compound in Pakistan. But thousands more highly-skilled, hard-working K9s along with their heroic human handlers put their lives on the line every day.
And their ranks are growing.
"The capability they [the dogs] bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine," Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told ABC News. "By all measures of performance, their yield outperforms any asset we have in our industry. Our Army would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource."
‘Guardians of the Night’
Last year, while making a short film called Guardians of the Night, I interviewed and filmed a number of these intrepid teams at the dedication of a new Military Working Dog memorial in their honor at Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, California.
What struck me most was the tenderness that many of the tough, brawny soldiers feel toward their K9 partners, and how their discussion of those feelings serves as an avenue for them to express other emotions about their dangerous jobs.
And I was moved by the sensitivity of these intelligent young warriors—some of them already veterans of several battles— whose eyes sometimes well up with tears as they describe what their Military Working Dog partners mean to them.
In the words of Debbie Kandoll, founder of Military Working Dog Adoptions, “Many soldiers have their todays and tomorrows because of what a Military Working Dog did for them yesterday.”
Watch Guardians of the Night.
Learn how to adopt a retired MWD.
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT BY KATERINA LORENZATOS MAKRIS (unless otherwise noted)