By Lisa Rogak. Thomas Dunne Books. $14.99.
When it comes to the human-animal companion bond, there is nothing stronger or more compelling than the handler-military working dog team.
And Lisa Rogak’s uplifting but sobering read packed with heartbreak and heroism seamlessly takes you through all of the major wars of U.S. involvement, capturing the ever-changing key role of the dog and presenting countless facts and riveting vignettes in the process.
The timeliness of this book shouldn’t escape anyone, since the initial focus is on Cairo, a Belgian Malinois that accompanied the highly-trained, 79-member commando team into raid on the Pakistan hiding place of Osama bin Laden May 2, resulting in his death.
Did you know Cairo was equipped with a $20,000 canine bulletproof vest that included a night-vision live-action video camera mounted on a stalk between his shoulder blades. The camera captured ground-level action. Before the quick strike, his handler inserted a tiny earbud connected to a wireless transmitter into the dog’s ear. That allowed his partner to whisper commands from several hundred yards away while watching live-action images captured by the camera.
Cairo was a key member of the team that trained secretly and intensely for several months. Unlike other military dogs that are trained to sniff out explosives or drugs, he is combat tracker trained to detect a piece of clothing and then find the individual to which it belonged.
Cairo’s role and widespread publicity following the successful invasion on bin Laden’s hiding spot, proves the perfect and timely entrée for Rogak of the role of American-trained dogs in warfare. Dozens of interviews produce a wide fusion of facts, figures and feelings in a crisp, smooth style.
You won’t find a sharply-etched portrait of the military working dog prototype, however. Breeds, assignments and handlers are literally all over the map, which simply reflects the versatility of these incredible animals and the challenges facing their handlers physically and emotionally.
Rogak dutifully takes the reader into the fields of war, as well as the training headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; veterinary hospitals; explains how to adopt a retired military working dog while noting the many caveats surrounding such an endeavor.
Her well-indexed resource listing includes books, movies and documentaries, national parks and war-dog cemeteries; related organizations and associations reflecting the author’s thorough quest for answers.
To give you a taste of what you’ll find, here are a few factoid gems:
Most trainers and handlers work with their dogs at least an hour or two each day to maintain their skills.
Roughly 3,000 military working dogs are employed by the Pentagon and serve around the globe in all branches of the service.
The only breed in the Lackland Air Force Base breeding program today is the Belgian Malinois, an alert, high-energy animal.
Because military working dogs are always assigned to security units, potential handlers must prove their mettle as a military cop for two or three years.
The first recorded American use of military dogs was in the Seminole Wars of the 1830s and 1840s, where the Army used bloodhounds.
Rogak’s in-the-trenches approach captures just about every emotion imaginable. Stirring quotes from one handler after another – some gleened from books, newspapers and magazines – re-enforce that special bond some admit is stronger than marriage.
Here’s one of the best:
“This is hand down the coolest job in the military. We have a bond with these dogs that are as attached to us as we are to them. I have gone to war with this dog and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I will go to the end of the world and back again for this dog, and I know he would do the same. He know how I feel about him, and he shows me as well. It’s more than just a working relationship. And we do have those times when he knows it’s okay for him to be a dog.” – Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Townsend, describing his relationship with A-Taq, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.