This winter has been the winter of dogs! Last January and most of February, we were dogless, our big Bouvier de Flanders having died the previous December. We didn’t adopt our rescue dogs until the end of last February and the other in March. With John gone for several weeks this winter, it seems like it’s just been me and the dogs. Well, it has for a lot of it. They like to follow me everywhere. I get up to make a cup a tea, and there’s a little black dog at my heels. I go into the garage for wood, and I hear dog feet scratching behind me. They’re good company though, so I shouldn’t complain. They also get me outside 3 or 4 times a day for some great winter walks. And although they’re not the best watch dogs because they bark at things like the fireworks two miles away or the cats jumping down on the back porch, they did bark and jump so much that it scared the state trooper who stopped at my door early Sunday morning to ask about the slate on our barn roof.
Like horses and pigeons, dogs played vital roles in WWI too. Well over 50,000 dogs served within the German, French and British armies. They acted as sentry dogs, scout dogs, messenger dogs, dogs that could find the dead or wounded, dogs that could warn of incoming gas or explosives, ratter dogs, and mascot dogs. Most of these dogs had to be specially trained. Scout dogs for example were highly disciplined and quiet. They would patrol terrain in front of their squad to detect enemy scent. They alerted their squad by raising their hackles and pointing their tail instead of barking which would have also alerted enemy patrols.
Some dogs were trained to find wounded and dying soldiers. They carried medical supplies which could be used by the men who were still alive, or they would wait and give comfort to a dying man. Because of the latter role, they were also called “Mercy” dogs.
Messenger dogs probably had the most dangerous role. They ran through the roughest terrain with shells and bullets flying all around them. One story I read told about a black dog, Satan, who wore a gas mask while carrying two baskets to a French garrison that had run out of ammunition and food and were surrounded by the enemy. Although Satan died at the French officer’s feet being shot several times, he was able to deliver his cargo – two carrier pigeons with instructions to hold out. Help was coming. The French officer sent back the pigeons with information on the location of a deadly German battery. One pigeon was shot down, but the other one delivered the message. A short time later, French artillery shelled the German battery saving the French garrison.
There are dozens of stories of dog heroics in WWI, probably thousands. It got me wondering though, what kind of jobs would my undisciplined scaredy-cat dogs have been able to do. Scout, our terrier mix, would have become a highly sought after ratter, I’m sure. On the farm, she’s already an expert in finding voles and field mice in our Pollinator Sanctuary. I have no doubt she’d go after rats too. What fun she would have had in the trenches. Honey, a hound shar pie mix, is a little harder to peg. We adopted her when she was eight months old and already a little ‘off.’ She’s always sniffing, but I don’t think she would have had the discipline for a scout or messenger or “Mercy” dog. Nor does she have the stick-to-it-ness that a rat dog needs. The only thing left would have been a mascot dog. And with her cute muzzle and sleepy brown eyes, I think she could have excelled at that.