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A new breed of hero has emerged to serve

May 30, 2013 - Jenny Rukenbrod
What are you doing this Memorial Day weekend? Will it be a picnic, a parade or a party of some variety? Will you visit the grave of a loved one or respectfully listen to a speech of remembrance followed by the somber playing of taps that echoes through cemeteries near and far? It seems that Memorial Day is the one American holiday that almost everyone can agree on. Originally called Decoration Day and regardless of its place of origin, the holiday is about remembering and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Historically, the vision of ladies of the South decorating the graves of the Confederate dead leaves a lasting impression. In recent ceremonies, in addition to the military, our all-too-many fallen heroes from local, state and federal law enforcement are reverently remembered. In a community where people and pets are connected, another breed of hero has been introduced. To repeat my previous disclaimer, I am not an animal wacko. I certainly place human life in its appropriate place ahead of that of an animal. But a look at how animals serve our country and our countryás heroes is worth a moment of reflection. While the scope of dogs in service is far too broad to address in this column, these highly intelligent and trainable creatures have been used in warfare since ancient times. Today, we recognize that they offer both practical and emotional utility. From explosives and drug detection to search, rescue and therapy, manás best friend can carry a heavy load. In the United States it wasnát until 1942 that an organized effort by influential breeders led to the creation of The War Dog Program. Currently, about 3,000 dogs worldwide are trained and considered highly valued members of the U.S. military. At the raid of Osama bin Ladenás compound, one member of the elite commando team had four legs and a tail and went by the name of Cairo. Sadly, during the Vietnam era, only a small number of War Dogs came home. Instead they were abandoned or euthanized. Currently, almost all retired military dogs are adopted by their handlers or other veterans. When Cpl. Dustin Lee was killed by a mortar attack in Fallujah, his canine partner Lex, although also injured, would not leave his dead handlerás side. Initially scheduled to return to active duty, Cpl. Leeás parents lobbied the Marineás aggressively to adopt the dog. Lex now resides with them, in the hometown of his fallen handler in Quitman, Miss. A dog's utility has now evolved into assisting veterans returning from military service with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Studies show that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent required less medication. Programs such as âPets for Patriotsã seek to pair veterans with shelter pets. Locally, the Humane Society of Columbiana County is designated as a âtrustedã shelter for the national âPets for Patriotsã program. In a community where people and pets are connected, let us remember to support and thank those that protect and serve, not only on Memorial Day, but each and every day.


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