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Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Our canine companions are capable of incredible loyalty and devotion, though we might not recognize it as much in our own dogs, whose biggest mission might just be to give the world’s best kisses. March 13th is National K9 Veterans Day, the anniversary of the start of the US K9 Corps. Started by Vietnam Veteran and K9 handler Joe White, this day of commemoration was established to remember and honor the dogs that have served throughout history and those that continue to devote their lives to the line of duty.

What’s The US K9 Corps?

Started on March 13th, 1942 during World War II, the War Dog Program or US K9 Corps was the reintroduction of working dogs to the military. While dogs have been working alongside humans in the military since World War I, this official start was the beginning of organized training programs for specialized roles in the US Armed Forces. The US K9 Corps still exists today, with dogs continuing to work in tracking, search and rescue, and explosives detection.

Meet Famous K9 Veterans.

Through life-saving missions, incredible stories of survival, and unforgettable camaraderie, these k9 veterans have earned numerous honors and awards - not to mention our hearts!

Sallie is the first recorded US military dog, an unofficial mascot of the Civil War. The brindle Staffie joined the ranks at just four weeks old in the summer of 1862. Through every battle she stayed loyal to her regiment, the Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry. At one point she was thought to be lost for three days, found only when her troop realized she had stayed behind on the battlefield, standing guard over fallen soldiers. Today, a bronze statue in Sallie’s likeness rests at the base of her regiment’s monument in Gettysburg, where people leave treats and bones in her honor.

Sergeant Stubby is, to-date, the most decorated war dog in US military history and the only dog ever promoted to Sergeant. In 1917, the stub-tailed bully breed mix puppy wandered into the infantry training grounds at Yale University and bonded with 25-year-old soldier J. Robert Conroy. Though dogs were not allowed in the military at the time, Conroy managed to sneak the puppy in his coat aboard the ship to Europe. When he was finally found out, the dog charmed his way into the troops by giving the commanding officer a paw-to-brow salute. From there, Stubby became not only a mascot, but also a decorated war hero. He served in 17 battles, detected oncoming gas attacks, helped locate wounded American soldiers, and even captured an enemy spy.

Smokey a Yorkshire Terrier might just be the smallest K9 veteran in history, weighing in at just four pounds. In 1944, she was found in a foxhole by a US soldier and sold to Corporal William A. Wynne, whom she accompanied for two years in the South Pacific. Smokey accompanied Wynne on air/sea rescue missions, warned him of enemy attacks, and even navigated a 70-foot tunnel to feed a wire through to help repair a crucial communications center. On her downtime, Smokey learned numerous tricks to entertain the troops, and eventually became the first-ever therapy dog, helping to cheer up wounded soldiers in military hospitals.

Conan is a male Belgian Malinois who assisted troops during a top secret raid in Syria, pursuing and helping to take down the then-ISIS leader in 2019. Conan was injured during the mission and has since made a full recovery. After an awards ceremony in his honor, Conan returned to field duty and continued to serve overseas with his handler, serving in more than 50 high-level special operations missions.

Chesty XV is the newest Marine Corps mascot, taking over the role on August 31, 2018. As the 15th “Chesty,” dog, the English Bulldog continues the longstanding tradition with a name that honors legendary Marine Lewis “Chesty” Puller. Chesty XV passed basic training as a pup and now carries out traditional duties like attending ceremonies and parades and assisting with morale-boosting activities.

Never forget the 300 rescue dogs that assisted emergency rescue workers. Golden Retriever SAR dog, Riley, is transported out of the debris of the World Trade Center.

"Riley knew the people he continued to find were dead. He was never a formally trained cadaver dog. His job was to find the still living. I tried my best to tell Riley he was doing his job. He had no way to know that when firefighters and police officers came over to hug him, and for a split second you can see them crack a smile—that Riley was succeeding at doing an altogether different job. He provided comfort. Or maybe he did know," he explained

One of the most famous dogs from 9/11 rescue efforts was another golden retriever, named Bretagne. She was only 2 years old when she began searching for and recovering people at Ground Zero. Bretagne went on to aid in rescue missions in natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan before she retired.

Celebrating K9 Veterans Day

When military working dogs are ready to retire, they may be reunited with a previous handler or rehabilitated and adopted through Mission K9 Rescue or the Warrior Dog Foundation, nonprofit rescues that help military dogs transition to civilian life. Retired military dogs can experience post-traumatic stress and need to be matched with appropriate, loving homes. To honor K9 veterans, you can make a contribution to Mission K9 Rescue and Warrior Dog Foundation to help fund medical treatment, travel costs, and behavioral rehabilitation for retired hero dogs. If you have room in your home for a hero, you can also submit an application to be considered to adopt a retired military dog currently waiting to find their forever home.

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