Since the 1860s, military war dogs have become an indispensable aspect of warfare, protecting the mental and physical safety of troops. Starting in the Civil War and continuing in World War I, dogs served as mascots and later acquired roles of guarding and providing companionship. In 1942, a war dog procurement agency, Dogs for Defense, convinced the US Military to officially use dogs for sentry, patrol, scout, sledge, messenger, and attack. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labradors officially began their service in World War II and continued in the war in Afghanistan in 2000s. Despite the innumerable lives saved by war dogs, their most significant duty was remaining as loyal friends to soldiers who struggled with depression and fear. These dogs provided comfort by reminding the soldiers of their dogs and children at home. War dogs fearlessly risked their lives for entire units during battle and, by the end of the day, they surrendered to a game of fetch or a belly rub. Each dog served as a member in the band of brothers defending its troops and providing friendship and incomparable loyalty.
In the same way that war dogs fought for freedom, Richard Adams’ animal protagonists struggle to achieve it, though in their case, “freedom” means the opportunity to act naturally according to their instincts, yet live safely beside humans with mutual respect. All of Adams’ protagonists test the boundaries of their autonomy, but eventually they find fulfillment when humans appropriately utilize their dominion over them. In The Plague Dogs, Rowf and Snitter continuously hunt for freedom by escaping from an inhumane research facility, a pack of hunters, and a number of traps set by the humans who view them as a threat. They are forced to live in fear and misery until Snitter’s previous, more loving master adopts both of them. Rather than achieving true freedom in the wild, the dogs are happiest once they are allowed to act like animals under the protection and care of human beings.
Major Works Consulted:
Adams, Richard. The Plague Dogs. New York: Ballantine, 1977.
Photo Credit: Adams, Richard. Traveller. New York: Knopf, 1988.
-- .Watership Down. New York: Athenaeum, 1972.
Downey, Fairfax. History of Dogs for Defense. New York: Trustees of Dogs for Defense, 1955.
Goodavage, Maria. Soldier Dogs. New York: Dutton, 2012.