Group honors military service dogs
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
FALMOUTH, Mass. — Most of the walls in the Waquoit studio Alan Driscoll shares with his wife, Bonnie Maresh, are covered with Maresh's paintings, but in one room hang photos of Dutchess, Driscoll's canine companion during the Vietnam War.
"I had an extremely close relationship with my dog," said Driscoll, 71, one of the first Air Force sentry dog handlers in Vietnam.
In 2009, Driscoll formed the nonprofit organization K9s of the War on Terror (K9WT) to recognize the contributions of military, law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security dogs since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Driscoll said his dog-handling experience in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 "absolutely influenced" his decision to form K9WT.
Driscoll said his organization provides the only mechanism for awarding medals to American military and law enforcement dogs. Although other countries do so, the United States has no such system in place, he said.
Handlers from around the country can nominate their dogs for the K9WT award by submitting an application, which can be found on the group's website, www.k9wt.org, and Driscoll and a committee review the nominations and verify qualifications.
In 2012, K9WT awarded its first two medals: one to Besy, a German shepherd who assisted in border patrols, checkpoint operations and counterexplosives detection in Afghanistan, and one to Ryky, a Malinois who helped clear paths for medical personnel after an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan.
"It's important to recognize the dog," Driscoll said. "We recognize the handlers, too, but we recognize the dog first."
About 10 years ago, Driscoll reunited with Edward Hobbs, a fellow sentry dog handler, through the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, a group dedicated to honoring the memory of its military dogs.
Hobbs, of Houston, is now the secretary on the board of directors and works on fundraising.
"You're closer to that dog than anyone else," Hobbs, 68, said of the relationship between handler and canine.
"Too many people take dogs for granted," said Michael Lemish, one of four members on the K9WT review committee. "With all the technology we have, we still rely on dogs."
In 2000, Driscoll was involved in helping to pass "Robby's Law," which facilitates the adoption of retired military dogs when their work ends, said Lemish, a military dog historian whose book "Forever Forward," which focuses on K-9 operations in Vietnam, discusses the passing of the federal law.
"Prior to 2000, dogs were not retired to civilians," said Lemish, a Mashpee resident. "They were euthanized after service."
In 2002, Driscoll adopted Baro, a German shepherd who was injured during military training and a "great companion," Driscoll said.
In addition to awarding medals, Driscoll and his colleagues are in the process of creating a monument that will serve as a memorial to dogs involved in the war on terror and looking for a site for it.
"We can at least make sure dogs in this conflict get recognized," said Driscoll. "They are so selfless."