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U.S. military: The dogs of war

Editorial

Even as our technological ability to fight terrorism becomes more sophisticated, we still rely on dogs — on the war front and the home front — to lend us their extraordinary senses of hearing and smell.

May 16, 2011

The Navy SEALs who raided Osama bin Laden's compound aren't the only members of the mission to be cloaked in mystery. The military dog the commandos took along is too. The government won't even release his — or her — breed, although most military dogs are German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labradors or Lab mixes. We do know the canine was included in the very private meeting President Obama held on May 6 at Ft. Campbell, Ky., with the assault team.

Dogs have been rescuing us from calamities for centuries. Search-and-rescue dogs find survivors buried in rubble; in Italy, Labs and Newfoundlands have been trained to jump into the surf to help swimmers in trouble.

But war is a particularly grim and intense assignment. And dogs have been aiding troops for as long as the U.S. has been going to war. There are 600 dogs serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, treading treacherous roads on patrol and parachuting out of helicopters (yes). They can detect improvised explosive devices better than any machinery. They protect, track and save the lives of military personnel, and sometimes lose their own: Several dozen, at least, have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, city officials announced that they would be adding reinforcements to the canine bomb detection unit that patrols Los Angeles International Airport. The new dogs are specifically trained to follow the scent of explosives on a moving person — or to detect that scent in an area and track it to a person.

Even as our technological ability to fight terrorism becomes more sophisticated, even as airport scanners electronically undress travelers and unmanned drones hover above war zones, we continue to rely on dogs to lend us their extraordinary senses of hearing and smell. As if that weren't enough, their innate tenacity and loyalty make them companions as well as comrades, serving as honorably as the men and women they assist.

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