All in a Dog’s Life

By Milton Ammel

Dogs have long been called “man’s best friend” and rightly so. They have been man’s companion during good times and bad, but they have also been beasts of burden, though it may be difficult to put your pet into this category. Nevertheless, there are several jobs, some of them quite unknown to history, that dogs have filled.

One of the most dangerous jobs dogs performed was parachuting from aircraft into Normandy on D-Day in World War II. An article entitled “Para Dogs” from the online source Paradata.org speaks of at least half a dozen dogs, and probably more. One dog was a German shepherd named “Bing” and had quite the experience with his handler.

“Bing was also attached to the 13th Parachute Battalion,” the article says. “Bing parachuted into Normandy on D-Day in June 1944, landing in a tree where he stayed until he could be rescued the next morning by his handler Ken Bailey.

“Bing stood guard for his Battalion during heavy bombardment, despite having been wounded during the parachute drop. He returned to Britain where he was quarantined, being released in time to travel to Germany to take part in the crossing of the Rhine.”

From Smithsonian.com comes an article by Andrew Amelinckx on weird tasks dogs have been given. One job required a dog to walk along a device that turned a spit for roasting meat. “In England the practice was so common that a special breed was developed to handle this duty: a turnspit dog,” Amelinckx says. “Turnspits were short and stocky, with the head of a pit bull and the body of a basset hound. Turnspits were also used in colonial America, but not as much as in the old country. The breed eventually died out around 1900 with the invention of a mechanized spit turner.”

In more modern times, dogs are doing some jobs that no human seems to be able to accomplish. Take Piper the Border Collie at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan. A Mental Floss article by Miss Cellania describes Piper’s daily duties: “His mission is to keep wildlife away from the runways, as a part of the airport’s federally mandated Wildlife Hazard Management Plan. He is the only such K-9 in Michigan, and one of less than ten in the U.S. His duties include chasing birds away from the airport, and doing the same for rodents that attract birds of prey. He responds to reports of wildlife, and does perimeter checks for evidence of infiltration.”

Perhaps the most noble of tasks given to dogs is that of saving lives. We’ve all heard of dogs doing rescues of their owners, but what about sea rescues? That is the reality in Italy.

The same Mental Floss article says the Italian Coast Guard uses dogs as lifesavers for swimmers in trouble. There are about 300 Newfoundlands, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers on duty at various beaches, ready to jump if someone needs help back to shore. After a dog has been on duty for three years, it may be selected for an elite group of expert “rescuers,” trained to jump from boats and helicopters to retrieve people from deep water. Dogs are trained by the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards program at about a dozen locations in Italy.”

There doesn’t seem to be any job that a dog cannot be trained for. While we’ve yet to hear of dogs helping to build a house, they’ve done everything else inside the house, including fetching items for handicapped persons and alerting patients and their families just seconds before the onset of a diabetic seizure or other condition. Dogs have especially become useful for returning veterans experiencing PTSD. Without dogs, our lives would be more difficult, and for many people, much more lonely.