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Sonshine Kennels: A Remembrance Day Look at Animals in Service

While most of us think of our cats and dogs as family members, there is a long history of animals not just living with us as companions, but also working alongside us in various service roles. With Remembrance Day coming up, we want to pay tribute to those animals who have served and continue to serve with our forces, both in combat zones and at home with our returning veterans.

World War I

Over 16 million animals served in the First World War. Used for transport, communication and companionship, animals in service included horses, camels, cats and dogs, and pigeons. Horses, donkeys, mules and camels carried supplies, munitions and medical materiel to the troops at the front. Dogs served as scouts and sentries. Messages were carried back and forth by cadres of dogs.   Even at this time, animals were also used as a comfort to soldiers during the physical hardship and emotional trauma of war. Many, dogs and cats, and some more exotic animals were kept as pets and mascots, providing emotional comfort and boosting morale.

The mascot of the No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station, 1916

World War II

Many dogs served alongside various units as mascots, scouts, sentries and in bomb-sniffing roles.

World War II saw the establishment of the Dickin Medal, awarded to an animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion.. It is considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. In 2000 awarded posthumously to a dog named Gander, a Newfoundland dog, who saved Canadian infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun. In early 2002, the medal was given in honour of three dogs for their role responding to the September 11 attacks

Since World War II

Animals continue to serve Canada and other countries in war zones around the world.. 

Having a service dog helps an individual with PTSD in any number of ways:

  • First, they encourage the sufferer to engage with another being in a caring and routine way–the dog must be exercised outdoors and fed and cared for on a regular schedule.
  • People with PTSD often require more personal space than most people. The service dogs are trained to create a physical barrier that keeps other individuals at a comfortable distance.
  • The dogs may be trained to relieve anxiety in other ways, such as entering a room first ahead of their companion, or patrolling a house at night.
  • As well, the dogs are trained to recognize the signs of anxiety, nightmares or flashbacks. They will physically nudge their companion persistently, reminding them that they are now in a safe environment and and redirecting them to the calming, positive activity of petting the dog.

When we remember our veterans of war, we should also pay our respects to the animals who have played such a vital role. They do not choose to serve, but they do so with dignity, love and honour.




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