Dogs for Defense Inc., founded in 2007, is not affiliated with the WWII Dogs for Defense. It is our goal as a business to uphold the traditions that the WWII Dogs for Defense established with civilians playing an integral part in America’s military working dog program, from the initial concept, through procurement, training and ultimately return of canines to their original owners or handlers following their service. We find all these core principles of the WWII Dogs for Defense critical to their mission and we, the modern Dogs for Defense, strive to incorporate them into our ethos and build on them as we support America’s military and law enforcement today.


“The Dog must play its part in this thing…”:

A Short History of Dogs for Defense

contributed by Hannah E. Palsa

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was the only major power without a formal military working dog program in place. Alene Erlanger, who later founded Dogs for Defense in World War II, had pushed for the use of American dogs during the first global world war. Erlanger recognized the success that a K-9 Corps would lend the United States on the battlefield, but her request was denied. A bill that provided for a contingent of war dogs was introduced in Congress, but failed to pass during the United States’ involvement with the war. It was believed that America’s dogs could not be trained effectively to go to war and public support would be nonexistent.[1] In an interview with Roland Kilbon, for an article in his column Popular Dogs, Erlanger stated: “The dog game must play its part in this thing…Other countries have used dogs in their Armies for years and ours has not. We’ve got to do it. Just think what dogs can do guarding forts, munition plants, and other such places.”[2] Enlisting the help of other prominent figures in the dog world, Erlanger founded the Dogs for Defense organization in January of 1942. On March 13, 1942, the Army named Dogs for Defense the authorized agency for canine recruitment and training. It would be the first time that war dogs were recognized by the United States military.[3] The organization was met with overwhelming support. Citizens, armed with their filled-out questionnaire, were ready to donate their animals and to serve their duty to the war effort.[4] Estimations on the exact number of dogs that were enlisted and served during World War II are unknown. Fairfax Downey gives a total of 25,000 dogs which seems to be the accepted number, but other figures can range from 50,000-300,000 dogs that were donated and served in some capacity.[5] Dogs were obtained by civilian donations with no breed or sex being turned away in the beginning, but standards for breeds and sex were adopted in the middle of the war. Every state had a recruitment branch and recruitment officer to help facilitate donations for Dogs for Defense.

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Patriotism and love of country pushed many owners to donate their dogs into the service. The act of patriotism gave dog owners comfort in donating their beloved animals. Military historian Fairfax Downey wrote that: “Givers of dogs received a certificate expressing the gratitude of the United States Government, an impersonal thing. The real recompense, of course, was the knowledge that they had performed an act of patriotism, an act the more deeply patriotic as it meant the sacrifice of something cherished.”[6] Dog owners were doing a service to their beloved country by donating their animals into military service, even if they truly did not want to. In the foreword to Valiant Comrades: A Story of Our Dogs in War by Ruth Adams Knight, Henry I. Caesar, president of Dogs for Defense, wrote: “It has been my fine privilege…to enjoy a close-up view of the War Dog in training and at work, and to know the patriotism that has been the force behind those thousands of Americans—men and women, boys and girls—who have given—and every day are giving—their fine animals to their country.”[7] Though cherished pets, dogs were donated in a patriotic flurry that captivated America during World War II. The act of donating their beloved pets allowed the donator to feel more patriotic in donating something that was cherished, in this case a loyal dog, because it meant that their loyalty and love of country was more powerful than anything in times of war.

Dogs to be shipped to Dog Corps at Front Royal, Virginia  Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection

Dogs to be shipped to Dog Corps at Front Royal, Virginia Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection

Following a donation of a beloved pet, animals were sent to war dog training and reception centers throughout the United States. In total, the Quartermaster Corps operated six War Dog Training and Reception Centers: Front Royal, Virginia; Fort Robinson, Nebraska; San Carlos, California; Cat Island, Mississippi; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Camp Rimini, located in Helena, Montana. Both dogs and men were trained by following the training program designated by the Technical Manual 10-396: War Dogs or the TM 10-396, published in July of 1943. Handler and dogs went through basic obedience training and general care for military dogs before beginning specialized training as messenger, sentry, scout, attack, or guard dogs. The training took anywhere between 6 to 8 weeks and following its end, dog teams were shipped to their destinations whether it was the European or Pacific Theaters or staying stateside to guard munitions factories.

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Propaganda created by Dogs for Defense encouraged Americans, both young and old, to donate their personal property, in this case their pets, as personal, individual acts of patriotic citizenship. The organization utilized posters, children’s books, songs, and radio programs to convince owners their dog needed to be donated to fulfill their patriotic duty to the United States during wartime.

In 1942 the radio program “All Out for Davey” by Shirley Wade aired. The program focused on the story of a young boy who donates his dog, Rusty, to the war effort. Davey tells the audience that: “If I can’t do anything you can go and fight in my place, can’t you, fella?”[8] Davey understands that he cannot serve in the war because of his age and that donating Rusty will help win the war. The captain who received the letter is reluctant to allow Davey to donate his dog but the sergeant states: “Oh, he wants to give it…Says please let his dog serve because he’s too young to do anything himself and we’ve got to win this war…”[9] The sergeant reiterated that Davey is too young to serve in the war effort and that donating his dog is the best course of action. Further along in the program, although upset about donating Rusty, Davey continued to remark how donating Rusty would help win the war effort: “I got to do something, Mom! We got to win this war! They say everybody’s got to help—and I guess I’m part of everybody and—well—I got a dog.”[10] Propaganda often emphasized everyone, including children, needed to do their part to secure a victory for the United States. In addition to collecting scrap metal or tending to victory gardens, children would have been encouraged by the program to donate their dogs just like Davey did.

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Dog shows highlighted Dogs for Defense and pushed the donation of dogs. A newspaper article published by the Santa Cruz Sentinel on March 1942 highlighted a local dog show urging donors to buy “Dogs for Defense” bonds. The article explained that the organization already had received “$50,000,000 worth of national publicity.” It continued to add that, “Advertising is important. The attitude taken by newspapers towards this plan may mean the difference between success and failure…. We will try to get pictures of dogs, already trained and in use for publicity for the local show…Every dog show is going to have to do its part.”[11] For many, dog shows highlighted, not only the best in breed, but an opportunity to view a real-life war dog up close. Dog fanciers understood that having war dogs, either on site or viewable by photograph, allowed citizens to understand the war dog project more in depth. If citizens understood how the dogs were trained and to what purposes these dogs were serving, they may be better inclined to donate their own animals or purchase war bonds to support Dogs for Defense.

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Newspapers continuously ran articles featuring Dogs for Defense and the war dogs in some capacity. They often focused on dogs being donated into the service by family members and the family’s sacrifice of donating their pet, but occasionally focused on individual canines themselves. The Indianapolis Star ran an article about a dog named Towser who joined Dogs for Defense in May 1943. Towser, a spitz and shepherd mix, was from New Castle, Indiana and was three years old at the time of enlistment. The article mentioned that Towser was joining the service to “avenge the capture by the Japanese of his master, Chief Petty Officer Lawrence Corum of New Castle.”[12] Unlike dogs who were donated by their owners and “wrote” of their experiences back home, Towser joined Dogs for Defense as a motive of revenge. The caption underneath a photo of Towser stated: “Fathers have joined the armed forces to avenge their sons, and sons to avenge their fathers, but New Castle has a dog which is entering the K-9 forces to avenge his master, now a prisoner of the Japanese.”[13] Towser’s master had been captured following the fall of Corregidor in 1942. The paper stressed that Towser was not shy of military life: “This will not be her first taste of military life…She has flown in airplanes and ridden in army trucks and likes them just fine. She particularly likes uniforms and military music and at the first measures of ‘Anchors Aweigh’ she perks up her ears and fairly prances.”[14] The army life suited Towser fine and she would be sent to either Fort Robinson, Nebraska or Front Royal, Virginia for training. Towser is depicted as enlisting for the same reason that regular GIs did which was to seek revenge of a loved one. In the film Sergeant Mike, Mike is donated by his young owner to seek revenge for the boy’s father being killed in the Pacific Theater, but it is the boy’s desire for revenge that motivates him to donate his dog. This is unlike Towser who “enlists” for revenge and to bring his master back home. We know that Towser was donated by his owners in reality, but the painting of Towser as a citizen-soldier who desired for revenge resonated with many Americans who enlisted for the exact same purpose.

The awarding of medals and citations for bravery is one of the ways the organization was able to incorporate the dog into the role of citizen-soldier. Mabel Harmer told the story of Chips in her book Famous Mascots and K-9s. Chips, a Shepherd and Husky mix, was donated by his owner to the war effort. Harmer sensationalizes Chips’ war efforts when she described the attack on an Italian pillbox:

“The soldiers threw themselves upon the sand in order to escape the hail of bullets but not Chips. With a total disregard of anything the enemy had, Chips charged the hut and came out with one Italian by the throat and three others holding their hands high above their heads in token of surrender. Chips suffered slight powder burns in the melee but went stealthily on to the next encounter which occurred just a short time later when his keen sense of smell told him that more of the enemy were creeping toward their beach head. He passed the warning on and the soldiers netted another ten prisoners.”[15]

(Chips in Italy.)[16]

(Chips in Italy.)[16]

A comic was published about Chips in 1944. He became a media sensation after biting the hand of Dwight D. Eisenhower who stopped to pet the pooch in 1943. Chips also continued to fascinate the public well after his passing, being the subject of novels and media for children and young adults.[17] Chips received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his courageous actions in Italy in 1943. However, it was deemed that dogs should not be awarded Purple Hearts or Silver Stars, as those awards were meant for humans. The awards were taken away from Chips. After the controversy, it was deemed that recognized war dogs would receive a special citation for their bravery in times of war. A medal for the war dog’s service was urged but was never brought to life.[18]

Following the surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945, dogs and handlers began the process of demobilization. Dogs were sent back to Fort Robinson, Nebraska where they were demobilized. The animals were reconditioned to different stimuli including fire trucks, police cars, and construction equipment sounds among other things. Barring illness or aggressive behavior, the majority of dogs were returned to their original owners or often adopted by the handlers that they faithfully served. For those dogs who were unclaimed or unwanted, Dogs for Defense took on the responsibility of finding the animals a loving home. Applicants were screened for suitable matches and every effort was made to carefully assure that the retired K-9 veteran would go into a loving home.

The war dogs of World War II would not have existed without the organization of Dogs for Defense. By appealing to American’s patriotic fever in the wake of World War II, the organization successfully recruited and trained thousands of dogs for military service. The donation of civilian animals would continue into the Korean and Vietnam wars, but donations never amassed the amount that they did during World War II. Though Dogs for Defense is solely responsible for the K9 Corps Americans are familiar with today, more study and understanding is still needed of the subject by historians.


Hannah E. Palsa is a first year PhD student at Kansas State University. Her research is focused on the Dogs for Defense program and the K9 Corps of World War II. She is particularly interested in how patriotism affected owner’s view and outlook of their animals and the creation of the dog as a citizen soldier. She is always looking for a possible interview of someone who had either donated their animals during the war or served with one of the many dog platoons. She can be reached at hepalsa@ksu.edu or on Twitter https://twitter.com/HannahPalsa


For books that are focused on the Dogs for Defense see: John M. Behan, Dogs of War (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1946), Fairfax Downey, Dogs for Defense: American Dogs in the Second World War ((New York: Trustees of Dogs for Defense, 1955), Clayton G. Going, Dogs at War (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944), Thomas Young, Dogs for Democracy: The Story of America’s Canine Heroes in the Global War (New York: B. Ackerman, Inc., 1944) and Anna M. Waller, Dogs and National Defense (Washington D.C: Department of the Army, Quartermaster General, 1958). TM 10-396 which focused on the training of war dogs was published in 1943 by the War Department.


[1] Fairfax Downey, Dogs for Defense: American Dogs in the Second World War 1941-1945 (New York: Trustees of Dogs for Defense, 1955), 3.

[2] Ibid, 16.

[3] Ibid, 18-21.

[4] Ibid, 24. The questionnaire required owners to list their animal’s breed, sex, shoulder height, call name, sex, and American Kennel Club registration number and name if applicable. It also allowed for information regarding health, temperament and whether the dog was fearful of loud noises such as guns or storms. The questionnaire also made note that owners were not to receive their animals back unless it was deemed unfit for service, however a provision was made in later questionnaire if the owners would like their animals back following the end of the war effort.

[5] Fairfax Downey, 22. Downey’s number of 25,000 seems to be correct but higher references also exist. A figure of 300,00 dogs is given by James W. English’s The Rin Tin Tin Story (New York:Dodd, Mead, & Company, 1949), 171.

[6] Fairfax Downey, Dogs for Defense, 24.

[7] Harry I. Caesar, forward in Ruth Adams Knight’s Valiant Comrades: A Story of Our Dogs in War (Garden City: The Country Life Press, 1943), viii.

[8] War Writers Bureau Collection, Box 142, Folder “All Out for Davey”

[9] Ibid, “All Out for Davey”

[10] Ibid, “All Out for Davey”

[11] Santa Cruz Sentinel, “Santa Cruz Dog Show Goes Patriotic,” March 31, 1942, 4.

[12] The Indianapolis Star, “Towser Joins Dogs for Defense To Avenge Master’s Capture By Japs” (May 16, 1943), 37.

[13] Ibid, 37.

[14] Ibid, 37. It is unknown why the article switches between male and female genders to refer to Towser, but Towser will be referred to as a girl.

[15] Mabel K. Harmer, Famous Mascots and K-9s (no publication information or date is given), 67.

[16] http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/dogs-defense

[17] For younger readers who are interested in Chips’s story see: Nancy M. West, Chips a Hometown Hero: Based on the True Life Adventures of the World War Two K9 Hero (New York: Off Lead Publications, 2008) and Chips the War Dog (Walt Disney Company, VHS). There is a children’s novel based on a Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky written by Jacky Donovan but the dog never received the same media coverage as Chips did.

[18] Fairfax Downey, Dogs for Defense, 73.