A friend of mine just sent me a link to this and I thought you guys might enjoy the article as well. The original can be found on the Palo Alto Daily News website, at
Quote:New military training facilities during World War II were seldom considered unusual. But this one, headquartered in Belmont's Devonshire Country Club that opened late in 1942, was. It was considered among the Army's more important but lesser-known installations, the War Dog Reception and Training Center, "Dogtown," as it was more commonly known.
No peewee operation, Dogtown was staffed by 550 enlisted men and 53 commissioned officers. Professional dog trainers were recruited from around the nation. Many were European immigrants. Manuals for training were based on previously published World War I French, English, Belgian and even German models. In the hills of Belmont and San Carlos, combat, sentry and medical dogs were trained for all branches of the armed forces.
Use of canines in warfare was nothing new; they had been used since antiquity. Even before the advent of guns and explosives, dogs had fought alongside soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat. In medieval times, dogs were even outfitted with chain mail. Americans soldiers had used dogs during World War I, but these had been lent from other allied armies.
After Pearl Harbor, a patriotic organization, Dogs for Defense Inc., of New York City, encouraged all loyal Americans to enlist their pets for the duration of the war. Soon newspapers were publishing patriotic photos of young boys turning over their cherished canines for military service. Before the war's end, dogs by the thousands, a veritable army of animals, had joined. At San Carlos alone, 4,500 received diplomas.
Training was rigid. All animals were required to demonstrate calm under fire and tranquillity riding in bumpy military vehicles, boats or airplanes. Most also learned the technique of wearing gas masks. Dogs assigned to airborne units were required to practice parachuting out of airplanes.
Facilities for canines at Dogtown were considered cushy. Handlers claimed the dogs lived better than they did. Each animal was provided his own one-room pine shack to live in, in addition to a personal outdoor run.
Regulations were clear. Every dog's health was carefully monitored. Dogs were brushed, cleaned and dried before being bedded down for the night. If necessary, they were bathed in a fluid that handlers referred to as "Shampooch."
Any large "sound and sane" dog ranging in age from 1 to 4 years old was given consideration for enlistment. Barking dogs, notably collies, shepherds and elkhounds, were schooled as sentries. Setters and pointers, normally less noisy dogs, were trained to attack, scout and carry messages on the battlefield. Doberman pinschers and other aggressive dogs that had already received training in fighting were rejected. Families willing to give up their cherished pets were assured that few would ever actually be required to engage in combat. Except for animals that were specifically trained to attack and others trained as Seeing Eye dogs, the government promised that all would be returned to families at war's end.
Dogs, previously trained for the vaudeville stage, usually smart critters, were welcomed, but required to unlearn all tricks. French poodles, with GI haircuts, became unrecognizable, and Dalmatians, used as messengers, were died black or brown so as not to stand out on a battlefield.
Specialty education included techniques in bomb and mine detection, wire laying and sniffing out wounded soldiers on darkened battlefields. Those trained as messengers were issued distinctive collars with metal waterproof capsules attached. These capsules would hold maps, orders or requests for reinforcements and ammunition.
Dogs ran both between fighting units and from the front line back to headquarters. They were used routinely when radio and telephone communications were not available. Some carried messenger pigeons on their backs, assuring two-way communication.
Most animals functioned flawlessly under battlefield conditions. There were no better messengers. Dogs were strictly trained never to pause and fight, chase cats or accept food from strangers, lest they be poisoned.
Oblivious to dangers, dogs ran through gunfire, hopped trenches, jumped obstacles and, if necessary, crawled beneath barbed-wire entanglements to complete their missions. In an effort to protect Signal Corps personnel from being exposed to enemy fire, some dogs were trained exclusively to drag telephone wire across battlefields at night. Most wore packs with pockets carrying tools and batteries.
Others dogs, outfitted with specialized packs for heavy loads, hauled ammunition and even light machine guns. Great Danes and Newfoundlands carried as much equipment as small mules.
Many dogs never went overseas but were assigned to protect coastal beaches. Up to 12 hours per day, they patrolled, soon sustaining cuts to their feet as a result of walking on rocks and broken seashells. Dogs were issued boots that were especially ordered, not in pairs but in "sets of four." Dogs seeing duty in the desert were also outfitted with sets of leather boots to protect their pads from cactus thorns.
The Army, good to its promise, returned thousands of dogs to their families at the conclusion of the war, many with appropriate medals.