As we take time today to give thanks for and remember those who have honored our country with their service, we should also stop to think of those animals who have spent their lives devoted to military service. Not only are animals called upon in times of war, but they also serve our veterans off of the battlefields as well.
It is estimated that today there are nearly 3,000 animals working for the U.S. military. The largest group is composed of dogs working as sentries to detect land mines and bombs in addition to performing search and rescue operations. Most of these dogs will serve the military for around ten years and are then retired. Birds are also used as early warnings in the event of a chemical or biological attack, and even dolphins have been used in wartime operations to detect underwater mines.
Military historians estimate that the use of service animals in war has saved thousands of American soldiers from harm or death in the years since World War II, when they were officially introduced as members of the military.
Many animals provide much-needed therapy and assistance to American veterans on the homefront as well. Through the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program, dog and handler teams pay special visits to residents of veteran hospitals and assisted living facilities. Disabled veterans are oftentimes aided by specially-trained service dogs that can increase their mobility and improve their quality of life.
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