By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
There have been quite a few headlines
circulating recently about war-zone dogs in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and not
all of it is cheery news.
Baghdad city officials are in the process of carrying out a campaign to rid the city of its stray-dog population which, at an estimated and unwieldy 1.25 million, poses numerous health and safety hazards to the civilian population. Reports say that upwards of 58,000 have been killed in just the last three months and these teams -- consisting of city officials and veterinarians -- are averaging 2,400 kills per day.
The details of these efforts are grim -- the
dogs are poisoned or shot point blank -- not an easy thing to watch. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has spoken
the population control efforts -- like the one in Baghdad -- calling the
methods inhumane killing sprees. Officials, citing the families that fear for
the safety of their young children, say that they're open to assistance but
don't have the resources necessary to tranquilize the dogs so they can be
As we've discussed in this series, U.S. soldiers don't just forge bonds with military-trained dogs -- more often than not it's the strays who gain the soldiers' affection, even if it's against regulation to keep them, or any other kind of pets, on base. (In the Iraqi war zone it's "a crime on par with using illegal drugs.") And while it's not uncommon for higher-ups to turn a blind eye to unauthorized animals on bases, especially during war, if discovered these animals are removed and destroyed.
of soldiers being separated from their beloved pets after their
deployment is over has moved individuals and organizations alike to
take grand measures to ensure that war-zone strays can stay with the
soldiers who love them. The SPCA, for instance, has a program called
Operation Baghdad Pups which
accepts donations towards coordinating complicated "logistics and
transportation requirements in order to reunite these beloved pets with
their service men and women back in the U.S." (Its website hosts
hundreds of photos of dogs and cats with names like Daisy and General
George Patton along with the soldiers who kept them.)
But though the risks are legitimate -- animals spreading disease or endangering military dogs on bases -- as are concerns over the sometimes exorbitant costs and extreme measures employed to transport these animals overseas, I'm hard pressed to summarily dismiss the benefits of adopting war-zone strays and all they offer our soldiers in combat. How can we deny the fortifying effect and protective presence war dogs have when it is so plainly evident and worthy?
I'm curious to hear, what do readers think?
Bonus: The Discovery Channel's website has a video series on the individual stores from the animals brought out of Iraq by the SPCA's program called: No Dog Left Behind
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.