For the first time in the history of the New York Veteran's Day Parade, the brave dogs that served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their handlers were acknowledged with a float presented by the American Humane Associated and sponsored by philanthropist Lois Pope, a founder of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.
"These are hero dogs," Pope said in the minutes before the float rode down 5th Avenue. "They're on the first line of defense, sniffing out bombs, explosives, IEDs. They've saved so many hundreds of thousands of our veterans, and today we're celebrating them."
While many remain unaware of the historical role of dogs in warfare, the use of canines actually dates back to the very beginnings of combat.
"Dogs have been in the military in almost every war," said 28-year-old Nick Caceres, standing with Fieldy, a Military Contract Working Dog who he served beside in Afghanistan. "They're the ones doing the hard work, saving lives and keeping us safe. For them it's fun, but we know the seriousness of their job."
"I spent 14 years in the Marine Corps and we did many missions with military working dogs, and those guys are not just an asset and they're not a piece of equipment, they're a part of the team and the platoon," added 34-year-old Jason Haag, coddling his dog Axel. "He saved my life, no doubt about it."
As the veteran dogs posed for photos beside their handlers, Pope stressed that the now-domesticated pets were happy to be the subject of praise.
"Dogs know more than we think they do," said Pope, "They're very intelligent and they're very proud to be here today."
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