By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
When I came across this photo I was struck by how it so fully captures a necessary growing pain that all handlers experience at one point or another during their careers -- having to part ways with a dog they've grown close to, a dog they love.
"In a picture taken on November 23, 2011, two Chinese paramilitary policemen from the canine unit wipe their tears after they bid farewell to their dogs, as they retire from the unit in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province."
I wasn't at all surprised to see these two men openly wiping tears from their eyes. I've had handlers tell me that the day they were separated from their dog -- whether because of diverging deployment orders or for receiving a promotion that graduated them for their work as handlers -- was one of the worst they can remember. They're not bashful about this emotion either; it just comes with the territory.
I was, however, fairly surprised to see a late-December headline reporting that China currently employs upwards of 10,000 military working dogs in its armed forces. China uses breeds like Labs and Shepherds as well as the Kunming dog for patrol and detection work. According to Wang Han, the quoted official from the Beijing dog breeding and training centre, China's dogs "serve in more than 5,000 army divisions," doing all the things you might expect: "missions like peacekeeping, post-disaster search and rescue and border patrolling."
While overall, not a terribly enlightening story, the high number of China's MWDs is worth noting and keeping an eye trained on the growth of their programs. Otherwise it's just another military catching on to the intrinsic value of these dogs and proof that the handler-dog bond is universal.
In other war dog news: The 673rd Security Forces Sqaudron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska held a memorial service for not one, but two of its MWDs. RIP Jack and Benjo.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.