From tracking down suspects in the 2015 terror attacks in Paris to fighting extremists in Africa’s Sahel region, dogs have helped French soldiers, police and rescue teams save lives for more than a year. century.
In recognition of the four-legged partners, France this week included a memorial honoring all “civilian and military hero dogs”. It features a sculpture by Franco-Colombian artist Milthon of a First World War soldier and his dog huddled together.
The monument is located in front of the town hall of Suippes, a part of an area in northeastern France that saw great battles during the First World War. The placement recognizes the important role dogs played in the American and European armies of the time.
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Suippes is also home to the largest military kennel in Europe, where members of the French Army’s 132nd Canine Infantry Regiment train dogs for military service. The regiment currently consists of 650 soldiers and 550 dogs.
The monument in homage to hero dogs is an initiative of the French canine club, the Centrale Canine. Animals from the army regiment attended the memorial dedication ceremony on Thursday wearing their military medals.
“It’s very important (recognition) because dogs, like humans, do missions, but they’re not asked for their opinion. So for me, it’s just giving them a medal,” Johann said. , warrant officer in a combat unit, said.
He and other human members of the unit could only be identified by their first names for security reasons related to their military status.
The Suippes regiment prepares dogs for combat zones where they will be tasked with sniffing out and chasing a potential enemy. Some are also trained to detect explosives and drugs. Each dog is paired with a soldier.
Johann, a member of the regiment for 12 years, is now paired with a Dutch shepherd named Nasky. He has not lost a dog in combat, although he has colleagues who have.
“It is important from a psychological point of view and very hard for the handler. But in these moments, we take it upon ourselves (to continue) and when we no longer have our dog, we are still fantasies and we have to be able to continue our missions,” he said.
The regiment’s recruits are involved in French operations abroad, notably in the African region of the Sahel, West Africa and the Middle East. They are also sent on internal missions and to work in French overseas territories, such as the fight against gold trafficking in French Guiana.
Dogs selected for training are sometimes recruited as puppies, but most are 18 months old. Many come from France, others from the Netherlands, Germany and Eastern European countries.
They go through a series of tests to see if they are enthusiastic about biting, eager to play, and not easily startled in a stressful environment. The most important quality required is bravery, the regiment’s soldiers said.
“We use their sense of smell, their sight, their physical abilities a lot. That’s why we have lots of Belgian and German shepherds, dogs that know how to run, that can withstand hot and cold,” explains Audrey, a member of the canine unit. “They are very good working dogs.”
When they can no longer fulfill their missions, the dogs are retired. Audrey plans to keep her partner, Moocki, with her at home when the time comes. She explained that “handlers are in the best position to choose families” for retired dogs.
“We try, as handlers, to do that as best we can…depending on the dog, the character. Some dogs can also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.
France created its first department to train dogs for active service during the First World War. They searched for wounded soldiers, warned sentries and carried messages, food and ammunition to the front lines of the 1914-1918 war.
Thursday’s ceremony in France notably paid tribute to Diesel, a police dog killed in a raid targeting the mastermind of the 2015 Paris attacks, and Leuk, a French army assault dog killed by an extremist in Mali in 2019.
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Other nations have recognized the contributions of dogs in times of war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy named a medal to a Jack Russell terrier named Patron who sniffed out mines after Russia invaded Ukraine. Patron was later visited by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who called him “world famous”.
In the United States, the first national monument dedicated to military working dog teams was returned in 2013 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, home to the largest military dog training center in the world.