Aiello tried for years to get the Army to create some official award or certificate to honor the heroics of military dogs. No dice.
"We give these only to humans, was their position," says Aiello. To do otherwise, he was told, would be to dishonor or detract from the human honors. He then asked if the Army would create an award specific to dogs. They again declined, he says.
"We went ahead," he says, "and created our own military working dog service award, which we have been awarding to dogs on the request of their handlers, even though the Department of Defense is still opposed."
In April, the only private memorial to war dogs west of the Mississippi was dedicated in Encinitas, California, near San Diego. At the dedication, a U.S. Marine delivered a poem celebrating war dogs' vigilance, loyalty and companionship. Jim Silvera, the president of the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, along with philanthropist Madeleine Pickens, got the idea for the memorial after taking a tour of Arlington Cemetery.
Pickens' efforts on behalf of war dogs go beyond the ceremonial. She has adopted a retired war dog named Chiyba. "She was one of the first dogs deployed in Iraq," says Pickens. "When I brought her home, she cased our entire house. I had to explain to her she was retired, but she still sniffed out everything. I've never had a guest before who sniffed my fireplace."
Thanks to a bill signed into law by President Clinton, civilians can now adopt retired war dogs. For more information on adoption and legislation needed to make it easier, contact Debbie Kandoll, Military Working Dog Adoptions.
John Burnam of the U.S. War Dog Association, along with Ron Aiello, are working to establish a Military Working Dog Teams National Monument at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia, where the U.S. Army is building a national museum. The Department of Defense has given its okay for the erection of a statue.
Says Burnam, "The Secretary of Defense has signed off. We've cleared all the political hurdles. Now we're into fundraising." He figures he will need to raise $915,000 if they monument is to be up and running, so to speak, by Memorial Day 2012.
Orlean believes the ultimate goal would be to create a national war dog cemetery--"a memorial on a par to and near Arlington. Separate but wonderful."
On Memorial Day, how best to honor war dogs? You could go to Encinitas and lay a wreath. Or you could kneel down and scratch that monument behind the ear.