Military and service dogs will be honored during the second annual K-9 Veterans Day on Sunday, March 13, at the American Legion Dugout in Fort Atkinson.
“It is the second annual ceremony to honor canine veterans,” said Mabel Schumacher, who spearheads the event. “Last year, we had a resolution (to establish K-9 Veterans Day) passed in Wisconsin.”
The Fort Atkinson event will take place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Sunday and is open to the public. People are welcome to arrive early and “munch on cookies” or view a film showing the history of dogs in war.
Expected to be in attendance are state Sen. Steve Nass and state Reps. Andy Jorgenson and Cody Horlacher, who were instrumental in establishing K-9 Veterans Day in Wisconsin. Also expected are five to eight working canines and their handlers, along with canines from the Milwaukee War Dog Association.
“We are again honoring the people who have supported us,” Schumacher said. “We’ve also invited dogs from around the state. I’ve kind of been in contact with the Police K-9 Handlers Association and several units are sending dogs.”
Service dogs who have been lost in the last year will be remembered Sunday, as well, Schumacher said. They include Mink, a German Shepherd and one of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s three K-9 officers, who was put to sleep Tuesday, Jan. 19.
“We are then going to introduce people to the concept of a statue memorializing working canines that will be placed in McCoy Park,” Schumacher said. “I don’t want to say too much about what the statue is going to be, but it’s very, very exciting and very personal to Fort Atkinson and our area.”
The statue still is in the planning phase. Schumacher said she hopes to have it completed by next year, but in the meantime, there is “a lot of fundraising to do.”
March 13 was chosen as K-9 Veterans Day in Wisconsin because it was on that date in 1942 that the United States K9 Corps was founded. Currently, 14 states have established that day as K-9 Veterans Day. In addition to Wisconsin, they include California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
“This has been a movement across the nation, which started with a retired K-9 handler,” Schumacher said. “He came back from his tour of duty and said, ‘there’s got to be some way to honor these K-9s — these four-footed soldiers — that have served so faithfully.’”
The initiative to honor service dogs on March 13 started in 2009 with retired military dog handler Joseph J. White, whose efforts resulted in Jacksonville Beach and the entire State of Florida becoming the first to proclaim the recognition.
“A K-9 officer is a specially trained canine that is trained to serve a variety of purposes,” Schumacher explained. “Sometimes they are multi-purpose dogs, sometimes they are single-purpose dogs and they work with a handler to augment the handler’s skills by using their own skill to do the job that they’ve been assigned to do.”
Working canines have served our nation from the very beginning, Schumacher said.
“During the Revolutionary War, the Civil War — all through the history of our nation — we’ve had dogs serving beside people, soldiers and police people, and they’ve not received the recognition. Up until the early 2000s, they were considered equipment and could be discarded.
“Now, they can be brought home, they are adopted, cared for, they are treated like the retired or wounded soldier that they are,” she added.
“Even though they have four feet, they need to be recognized.”