Dogs are often called man's best friend, but when it comes to military working dogs, they become much more than that. Words like “family” and “guardian angel” are used to describe the four-legged service members.
With military dogs often risking their lives to keep their human counterparts safe, American Humane thought it was only logical to host a ceremony honoring them.
Inside the Rayburn House Office Building's foyer, during the second annual American Humane's Lois Pope Life K-9 Medal of Courage Ceremony, a total of five service dogs received awards for their hard work and bravery.
Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane, told IJR it's important to host a ceremony like this because military dogs save human military members lives every day, even though the dogs themselves don't understand the significance.
Since dogs have a superior sense of smell, they are often assigned the dangerous task of sniffing out bombs and/or improvised explosive devices that are hidden on the battlefield.
Here are the five dogs who were awarded with this year's Medal Of Courage:
Alphie is a 7-year-old black Lab who served on the frontlines of the War on Terror and now protects the American homefront as a TSA explosives-detection dog. The event also marked the first time Alphie and his handler, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal William Herron, were reunited for the first time in over four years.
Coffee — no, not the overpriced drink you buy at Starbucks — is a 13-year-old chocolate Lab who served three tours in Afghanistan as a bomb-sniffing Army dog. When asked how many lives Coffee saved, Sergeant First Class Bennett said he couldn't even begin to fathom the number since it was so high. Bennett and Coffee also have the distinction of being together for their whole military career.
Capa is a 10-year-old German shepherd who served nine years in the Navy as a highly trained explosives-detection dog. After retiring, Capa was adopted by his handler Master-at-Arms Second Class Megan Oster. Oster could not attend since she was on a deployment, but Oster's mom, Kim, was in attendance with Capa.
Ranger is an 8-year-old black Lab who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he uncovered improvised explosive devices. Ranger suffered from some medical problems that forced him into early retirement but is now in a good home with his owner Kirk Adams, a retired police sergeant, and his wife.
Gabe, who is sadly no longer with us, was a yellow Lab who conducted over 200 combat missions in Iraq as a specialized search dog with the U.S. Army. His owner and dog handler Sergeant First Class Chuck Shuck accepted Gabe's medal on his behalf.
Each of the dogs received a giant gold medal for them to wear proudly:
One of the award presenters, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Brian Beaudreault, Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations, told IJR that speaking as a service member and a dog owner, this event was important.
“What an outstanding evening to truly recognize the working end of the leash," he said. ”[They're] doing difficult work. The handlers get recognized, it's great to see the animals get recognized."
“Soldiers have been relying on these four-footed comrades-in-arms since the beginning of organized warfare and today, military dogs are more important than ever in keeping our service men and women safe,” Dr. Ganzert added. “At American Humane, which has been working with the U.S. military and military animals for 100 years, we feel it is time to recognize and honor the extraordinary feats and acts of devotion these heroic animals perform every day.”