The Corner

Dogs of War

While I was away (mumbling under my breath “in France”), I received scores of e-mails about the dog (named Cairo, we later learned) who was included in the mission to assassinate bin Laden. I haven’t written anything about it because by the time I was ready to the topic seemed to die down. Still, I’ve written a lot about dogs over the years, but this seems the most appropriate for the occasion. Shortly after 9/11, I went down to ground zero to spend some time with some search and rescue dogs. From the article:

Recently I spent the better part of an afternoon about half a mile south of where the World Trade Center stood, with Tara, a three-year-old golden retriever employed by Michael Stanton Associates, a private security firm. Tara’s job is to find bombs. Of course, she doesn’t know that they are bombs; all she knows is that her human master wants her to find something that smells like plastic explosives, or TNT,or a dozen other dangerous substances. The only payment she will receive for this is a few moments fetching the ball with her boss.

This work ethic is the heart of canine exceptionalism. The dog is the only animal that volunteers for duty. If we want other animals — horses, oxen, mules, falcons, bears, or parrots — to come to our aid, we must either force them or bribe them. You might even call horses our slaves: Their spirit must actually be broken before they will agree to do anything for us. And, if the comparison of the jovial dog to the jovial Briton is a fair one, then the conclusion is unavoidable that cats share many attributes with our friends the French:They are coquettish when called, unavailable when needed, and always self-interested. If Lassie had been a cat, the barn would have burned down and Timmy would have starved to death at the bottom of the old well.

Long before the rubble settled in downtown New York, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Rottweilers — as well as canines of less aristo cratic lineage — were already pulling at their leashes to help with the search-and-rescue efforts. Locating the dead and searching (too often in vain) for the living is obviously an arduous and emotionally draining task for human beings, but it is no picnic for dogs either. The rubble provided unstable footing, was full of glass shards and twisted metal, and sometimes glowed red hot. Dangerous fumes, loud noises, and the equivalent of landslides were constant sources of distraction and peril. Dogs repeatedly had to limp out of the wreckage on bloody paws, the razor-edged debris slicing through even the leather boots distributed to some of them.

Worse, the stress associated with not finding survivors was extreme; dogs tasked with this assignment expect — need — to find survivors. “They don’t like to find bodies. They’ll find them, but they don’t feel rewarded,” veterinarian Douglas Wyler explained to the London Daily Telegraph. “The dogs are good, they’re professionals, but like any professional they can suffer from melancholy and depression. It’s hard for the men not to find anyone alive, and the dogs sense that.”

Dogs. They were with us on 9/11 and they were with us when we finally got Osama bin Laden. Cats? They slept through the news.


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