Now that we’re finally leaving Iraq, we need to remember that the dogs who go to war with us are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disease), just like the soldiers who take them on patrol. Back at the base, they are cowering under their owners’ cots, clearly traumatized.
Sometimes this has to do with what they themselves have witnessed and sometimes it has to do with what they’ve seen happen to the soldiers who work who work with them. In Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs are used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings. Different dogs show different symptoms: some become hyper-vigilant, while others avoid buildings or work areas that they had previously been comfortable going into.
Some evidence big changes in temperament, becoming either aggressive with their handlers or clingy and timid. Many stop doing the tasks they were trained to perform. Over 5% of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American troops are developing canine PTSD, and half will be retired from service. Since it costs time and money to train them, this is a major loss for our military.
Sniffer dogs are the most effective way to detect improvised explosive devices, which are mostly made from old-fashioned fertilizer. Since they contain no metal, they’re impossible to detect with conventional mine sweeping equipment. In the past three years, IEDs have been the major cause of casualties in Afghanistan.
In the December 2nd edition of the New York Times, James Dao quotes Walter F. Burghardt Jr., a veterinarian working at a military dog hospital in Afghanistan, as saying, "If the dog is trained to find improvised explosives and it looks like it’s working, but isn’t, it’s not just the dog that’s at risk. This is a human health issue as well." Veterinarian Nicholas H. Dodman doesn’t think these dogs can be cured. Dao quotes him as saying, "Dogs never forget."
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