Ella – June 4, 2018

I have always been a dog lover. In addition to being loyal, loving and adorable, dogs can sense and alert their owners to such dangers as a seizure coming on, and there are numerous stories of dogs rescuing people from fires and other hazards and helping track down missing persons or illegal substances.

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn about Smoky the War Dog on my visit to The Danish Home May 29th. Adrian Brigham came to tell this amazing dog tale to residents and guests. Needless to say, we were all captivated by Smoky’s stories and vintage photos.

Black and white photo of a four-pound Yorkshire Terrier decorated with war badges.

Smoky the War Dog was a WWII canine hero and the subject of a captivating presentation at The Danish Home May 29th.

Smoky was found in a fox hole in Papua New Guinea during World War II, became a famous entertainer, a decorated war hero and, it is believed, the first official therapy dog. What I was surprised to learn was that this amazing pup wasn’t a German shepherd or a hunting dog; she was a four-pound Yorkshire terrier! “Yorkie Doodle Dandy,” she is aptly called in the eponymous book written by her owner, Corporal Bill Wynne.

Smoky earned eight battle stars for her bravery and the lives she saved. Among other accomplishments, she helped run wire through 70 feet of underground pipe, establishing a line of communication on the Philippine Islands. Monuments are built to her in both the U.S. and Australia. She traveled all across the world, bringing comfort and joy to untold thousands of injured warriors and paved (pawed?) the way for today’s modern therapy animals.

Smoky is just one example of the importance of dogs to soldiers. In World War I, Red Cross dogs were also known as mercy or ambulance dogs. They were trained to find wounded soldiers and bring help to them. A search of the Internet shows countless accounts of dogs who have come through in the call of duty. Chips, a Collie/German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix, is known as the most decorated dog in World War II. He charged and detected enemy soldiers during his time in the Army on a beach in Sicily.

More recently, Summer, a yellow lab, used her skills to sniff out bombs in Afghanistan, saving the lives of many U.S. Marines. She received the American Humane Louis Pope K-9 Medal of Courage for her heroics.

Dogs have keen smelling and sensing abilities and can go into areas soldiers can’t access. They have had a wide variety of war duties, from catching rats to guarding posts, patrolling, detecting snipers, land mines and booby traps, sending messages, and exploring tunnels.

Dogs continue to be used in the military for their special gifts. The Swedish Armed Forces has a dog training center where they breed and train dogs and teach humans how to train and handle them.

We dog lovers have always known that our four-legged friends are good for the soul, and there is mounting research to prove it. A study of Sweden’s national records looked at 3.4 million people over 12 years and found that dog owners have a lower rate of cardiovascular disease.

Dogs are also credited with helping veterans who are no longer in the line of duty but are suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

I didn’t need to be convinced that dogs are man’s best friend, but I have learned what an important part of our history – and health – they truly are.