Memorial Day also a day to honor animals
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By Mickey Zeldes  May 23, 2014 12:00 am

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and remember those who have given their lives in military service. Since the beginning of time, animals have been used in military service in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps we could take a couple of minutes out of the 24 hours of Memorial Day to reflect on their service as well.

When you think of animals in the military, the first image is probably either that of a horse or a German shepherd dog. Certainly, horses have a long history of service – going back centuries and have been used in almost every part of the world. We all watched movies of the Native Americans or Crusaders racing on  horseback to battle. Horses not only were ridden by warriors but were used as pack animals to carry supplies and to pull heavy equipment. Along with horses were used mules, and depending on the part of the world, oxen, camels and elephants. It is estimated more than 8 million horses died in WWI alone. Can you imagine!

Dogs have an equally long history of being involved with military efforts. Not only are they efficient guards – alerting their handlers to lurking danger, but their keen senses made them valuable at detecting bombs. And they were often trained as attack animals. The four breeds that dominate the American military are the Labrador retriever, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd and Belgian Malinois. There are a few monuments built to honor the service of these dogs around the world, but aside from the recent movie “War Horse” there is not much out there, media-wise, bringing their efforts to the public’s attention.

There are lots of other ways animals have been forced into service for the military. Pigeons, of course, were used to send messages during WWI, and birds of all types were used to detect deadly gases. The variety of animals we’ve used as living bombs is amazing. Everything from cats and dogs to bats and dolphins have had explosives strapped on and been released into enemy territory. Dolphins have been used to track and find missing submarines and explosives in the water.

We use animals to study how to best treat soldiers with wounds. Animals were exposed to hydrogen bombs to see what the effects would be before we dropped it on Japan (yet we did it anyway!). More recently, dogs have been used to help soldiers recovering from PTSD and other injuries. Their ability to calm and heal is well documented and one of the more positive roles that animals in the military can play.

This Memorial Day, when you reflect and honor those who willingly sacrificed themselves for our freedom, please keep in mind those who also gave the ultimate sacrifice yet didn’t have a choice.

Upcoming events 

• Summer Camp: Registration is now open for our popular Kidz ‘n Critter summer camp program. We are offering seven one-week sessions of fun for kids in grades 2-7. Check out the complete schedule and download an application at www.rpanimalshelter.org or stop by the shelter to pick one up.

• Fix-it clinics: Free cat spay/neuter surgeries and low-cost dog altering for low-income are available to residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.

 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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