Monday, October 13, 2014

Rebecca Frankel's "War Dogs"

Rebecca Frankel has been writing about war dogs since 2010 in her Friday column called “Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week.” Her photo essay “War Dog,” is one of the most-viewed pieces in Foreign Policy’s history. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, National Geographic, and elsewhere. She has been a commentator on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and MSNBC among others. In 2011, she was named one of 12 women in foreign policy to follow on Twitter by the Daily Muse. Frankel is currently senior editor, special projects at Foreign Policy magazine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love, and reported the following:
If you turn to page 99 of War Dogs, you’ll find not quite halfway through the book, but smack dab in the middle of a close-up look at a dog’s superior senses.

Dogs have excellent hearing and their eyesight is, in many ways, far more discerning than ours, but it’s their sense of smell that is really remarkable. It’s not just that a dog’s nose is stronger than a human’s – and it is about a thousand times more sensitive -- but the way dogs use their noses is vastly more layered and more evolved. On page 98, I describe it this way: “A dog hunting for scent is like a linguist who, even when standing before the Tower of Babel (or more practically speaking, an international airport), can hear not only a cacophony of many tongues clamoring at once, but who can pull apart the sounds to find and comprehend the individual voices.”

In the wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most effective and insidious weapons that were used (and still are being used) are Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)—bombs cunningly hidden along roadsides, under bridges, or in the walls of buildings. And during these wars, regardless of the money and advances spent on developing technology to combat this risk, a dog trained in explosive-material detection is the most effective way of avoiding those bombs.

But the real reason why page 99 is, indeed, a snapshot of this book’s core is revealed in these lines (and, in some ways, what’s in between them):
To find such deadly weapons, handler and explosive-detecting dogs need to be prepared, focused. In addition to keeping watch on the wind, and on his dog, a handler must also keep his eye on the ground and the path ahead, watching for disturbances—wires, rock piles, things that do not belong—as well as any other sign of human interference, adding the keenness of the human eye to the power of the dog’s extraordinary nose.
Because no matter how amazing a dog’s nose is or how cautious and careful a handler is, at the end of the day, at the end of a patrol, neither one can do the job of finding bombs on his own as well as they can do it together. A dog and his handler have to operate as a team, one secured by a deep bond built on trust, training, and often, I believe, love.

In the unforgiving conditions of combat theater, a handler and dog depend on each other for safety and for comfort and that relationship extends between them, yes, but also to those around them, if not simply because they’re keeping the men and women who walk behind them safe. And together they are saving lives.
Visit Rebecca Frankel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue