Veterans: Theo, Chips, Kaiser, Nemo, Smoky, and Stubby.
Artist: Mike Tesch
Writer: Margaret Mandell

These are some of the most decorated war heroes. Yet they were not officially recognized until WWII. And prior to 2000, the older ones were required to be euthanized — a cruel and tragic ending to the four-legged military personnel that help to protect our freedom and troops here and overseas. 

Fortunately, today these retired canine warriors are available for adoption. Handlers and their families get first dibs, followed by law enforcement, and then civilians. Military dogs that die on active duty or of old age are buried with full military honors. 

Dogs have been used in combat since ancient times, but their role has become significantly more important as warfare has evolved. Today, there are about 2,700 dogs in active service. They detect weapons, bombs, booby traps, gases, and snipers. Most people think the German Shepherd is the breed of choice,X but many others are enlisted to serve, including poodles, bulldogs, terriers, and Labrador retrievers. 

Lackland Air Force Base in Texas has been training military dogs since 1958. But that kind of service doesn’t come cheap: The cost is as high as $40,000 per pup.

That’s a bargain when you consider how many human lives these brave soldiers have saved over the years, thanks to their keen sense of smell and hearing, intelligence, and undying loyalty. 

Note: Dogs who have experienced active war duty can suffer from PTSD, just like their human counterparts. There are a number of organizations addressing this issue, including Paws for Purple Hearts, K9s for Warriors, and Mission K9 Rescue.