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Remembering Man's Best Friend on the Feast of Saint Francis

By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church Newsletter, October 2015

Saint Francis of Assisi was an eleventh-century Italian friar revered for his ability to communicate with animals and his feeling of oneness with all creation. Remembering Man's Best Friend on the Feast of Saint FrancisWe at Trinity Episcopal Church and School remember his concern for animals as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis by bringing our pets to Father Jim for the Blessing of the Animals. We should also remember working dogs that cannot be in attendance. These wonderful canines assist the blind, deaf, physically challenged, and other humans in need. Military working dogs are a special group that also need our recognition and prayers. These brave canines and their handlers work tirelessly, often under adverse conditions, to protect our military men and women.

Dogs have a long history of working for the military. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and others trained war dogs to go into battle. Throughout the centuries, duties changed. Dogs protected and carried messages in the American Civil War. In WWI, they appeared as mascots on recruiting posters and served side-by-side with our men in the trenches overseas. Today the 341st Training Squadron, part of which is known as "Dog School", spearheads the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Program headquartered at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The staff at "Dog School" procures and trains canines for military service. Many of the dogs are Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds, but other breeds are also used. Working dogs have an acute sense of smell that is five-to-ten times stronger than human.

This allows them to detect minute traces of drugs and to identify bombs and other explosives before they damage or harm humans. The dogs serve with handlers from every military service. Handler and dog teams are deployed worldwide to support the war on terror and help safeguard military bases.

Military working dog Benjo (photo on right) was dual certified in explosive detection and as a patrol dog. Benjo and his handler, Tech. Sgt. Chad Eagan, worked as a team in Iraq. Together they identified and collected enemy munitions. Benjo is credited with locating 15 weapons caches, 98 mortars and 70 pounds of TNT. The thought of the potential number of lives saved and injuries avoided boggles the mind. Benjo retired November 12, 2009 and was adopted by a retired military man. As the parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Church and the students of Trinity Episcopal School gather October 6, to celebrate The Blessing of The Animals on the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi, let us remember all working dogs, especially our military working dogs and their handlers, who so proudly and bravely serve our country.

Remembering Man's Best Friend on the Feast of Saint Francis

Trinity member Sue Furman, Ph.D. has published two books on canine massage and teaches canine massage, canine acupressure, pet first aid and CPR. She also writes a weekly column for the Victoria Advocate.