All Things Soldier: Canine Sergeants Receive Well-Deserved Medals

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Several years ago, ardent troop supporter and philanthropist Lois Pope raised awareness that there is another “type of troop” that needed to be recognized by a grateful public, and they are the K-9s that serve with our brave warriors. She teamed up with the American Humane Association to form both a competition and award for dogs who were being retired from active duty after having served in combat. The “tales of tails saving tails” are truly legendary; one of the most famous, a WWI dog by the name of Stubby saved his entire company from a sarin gas attack. Sgt. Stubby visited the White House twice, met three US Presidents, and his remains are in the Smithsonian.

Dogs have been unofficially part of the service since the Revolutionary War, and were famous in Viet Nam for being able to hear the wind blowing against the metal trip wires that were attached to all kinds of Viet Cong bombs. They performed other duties as well, and out of 4,000 who were deployed, fewer than 200 made it back alive to the states. It is estimated that the Dog Walkers, as they were called, and their dogs saved at least 11,000 lives. Until 1990, the dogs were often put down after having served, and soldiers did not have the opportunity to adopt them.

Last week, four dogs were given the American Humane Lois Pope K-9 Medal of Courage for demonstrating exemplary service to their country. Of the four 2018 recipients, Ms. Pope said, “These remarkable dogs have given us their best. They have put their own lives on the line to protect us, to defend us, and to save us.”

The four medal winners are:

  • Jag, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever who served with the Army for seven years.
  • Taba, a 9-year-old Dutch shepherd who served as an Army Special Forces multipurpose canine.
  • Summer, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever who served in Afghanistan and is now a member of a TSA K-9 team for the Amtrak Police Department in Washington, D.C.
  • Taker, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their handlers told of their courage, and one of the most touching stories came from former USMC veteran Kevin Zuniga. Kevin and Taker served together in Afghanistan, and when Taker came home, Kevin still had two years of service left. He never thought he would see Taker again, and then when Kevin got out, he did some research on what had happened to Taker. He had to jump through a lot of hoops, but was able to adopt him. Kevin went to the airport to pick him up, and after two years, Taker still recognized Kevin. That was in 2012, and they have been inseparable ever since.

Kevin was thrilled to have his battle buddy honored with a well-deserved award. “They’re just seen as tools sometimes,” he said. “It shines some light toward the topic of military dogs and makes people think about the dogs that didn’t make it or back, or the people that didn’t make it back.” As we continue to give thanks to our two-legged service members and first responders, let’s make sure we celebrate the four-legged ones who have kept us free, too.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner