Dogs For Defense

Oct 1, 2015

Next month we celebrate Veteran’s Day. We honor those men and women who have served the United States and remember their sacrifice and service. So much has been written about famous veterans like Jimmy Stewart, Kurt Vonnegut, Presidents Kennedy and GHW Bush but few realize that many thousands of “man’s best friend” are also war heroes.

My grandmother considered the lazy, untrained family dog and figured everyone else was asked to sacrifice for the war effort, why not the family pet?

  In a little-known parallel world during WWII, there was Greer Garson’s poodle, Clicquot, Mary Pickford’s German Shepherd, Silver, Rudy Vallee’s Doberman, King, and then there was my grandparent’s dog Butch. He may have been the United States military’s greatest secret weapon but his family thinks of him as a most unlikely recruit.

He was a Chow and English Sheepdog cross, a fat, sloppy and undisciplined dog who never came when he was called.  He lived in San Francisco in the early 1940’s when the specter of the Great Depression still loomed and having an extra mouth to feed every day—even if that mouth was the family pet—was a considered expense.    

Coast Guard dogs chow down during World War II.
Credit U.S. War Dogs Association

  In the spring of 1942, a call came out to patriotic dog owners to enlist their canine companions in the war effort. The fledgling organization, Dogs for Defense, grew out of a need to recruit man’s best friend to the cause of freedom.  Surprisingly, America at that that time had no formal dog program attached to the military.  The American Kennel Association, along with this new organization, Dogs for Defense, saw an important place where trained dogs could be utilized to assist in the defense of this country.  Sentry dogs, patrol dogs, messenger and mine detection dogs could be trained and sent to assist military units all over the world.

At that time, the need for dog recruits was so great there were very few breeding or age requirements. Dogs for Defense accepted dogs from the wealthiest families and from the poorest.  The purebred trained with the mutt, breed distinctions were not recognized until later when it was discovered certain breeds worked well in specific areas such as tracking or mine detection.

When it came time to enlist, I would like to report that Butch signed on because of intense patriotism on the part of my grandparents Frank and Amelia DeAndreis but that would be rewriting history. Plainly put, Butch was another mouth to feed.  Meat was scarce and so was dog food.

My grandmother considered the lazy, untrained family dog and figured everyone else was asked to sacrifice for the war effort, why not the family pet? So one day, a uniformed soldier came to their house and took Butch off to his new destiny.  As far as Butch knew, he was going for a car ride.  The out-of-shape mutt who had enough of the right breeding in him to make some basic height and weight requirements had no idea he wouldn’t be returning to dig in that yard for another three years.

My father said they never knew where Butch was sent to train or what his subsequent military assignment was.  There was always a slight but nagging fear that Butch might be sent home with a bad conduct discharge for refusing to come when called or for not keeping a regimental toilet.  When he lived at home, he was also known for going AWOL whenever one of the kids left the back gate open.

My own dad joined the Merchant Marines in 1944 and, later the Navy, serving in the Pacific.  Home on leave in 1946 and still in his uniform, his mother directed him to the back yard.  There, sitting obediently was PFC Butch DeAndreis, looking like the very model of a modern major general. Trim, athletic, disciplined, Butch sat ramrod straight and gazed at his comrade-in-arms  His steely  eyes never wavered as he waited for my father’s “at ease” command.  Dad swears the dog saluted him but admits it could’ve been his eyes playing tricks on him as a result of a late night of official military debriefing at a local watering hole known as Tippy’s.

Butch, like all successful Dogs for Defense, received a commendation letter from the War Department and like all soldiers, regular discharge papers. I wish I could say that Butch’s military training and his disciplined way continued to his death, but according to my dad, “within three months, he was same old Butch, undisciplined, gluttonous and slovenly.”

But like Butch, many were called and served honorably in the war. When my grandfather dug the hole in the yard that would be Butch’s final resting place, there were salutes and a modest eulogy and  somebody hummed taps. At least for the three years Butch  served in the military it was said of him, he came when was called.

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres has floated the idea of sending the family dog for stint in the military.  Turns out they now have standards for that sort of thing.