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Readers can celebrate heroic canines in ‘Paws of Courage’

To you, your dog is a hero.

Nobody else protects you from spiders and shadows. Nobody does a better job of warning you about summer storms or friends a-knocking. You need to give pats and get kisses to feel safe, and in “Paws of Courage” by Nancy Furstinger, you’ll see how some dogs go even further in their heroism.

Everybody knows that dog is (wo)man’s best friend, but that goes doubly for a military or police dog and a handler. There are times when that relationship is a life-or-death matter. In this book, Furstinger offers mini-stories of those bonds, past and present.

Dogs, of course, have served on the battlefield for millennia, but history remembers only a handful of brave canine soldiers. In World War I, Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull mix, saved countless lives by warning soldiers of incoming bombs and by alerting them to enemy presence. Tiny little Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier, helped soldiers by doing the same thing in World War II and, due to her size, was also able to help “thread vital wires through” a narrow underground pipe. From Great Britain, an English Pointer named Judy followed her handler to a POW camp in World War II, and was eventually listed as a POW for her own protection. Also during World War II, the U.S. military asked civilians to enlist pets for the war effort; around 10,000 family dogs became K-9 soldiers, sentries and sniffers, including a German Shepherd mix named Chips, who was honored for bravery on the battlefield and for capturing enemy soldiers all by himself.

Today’s “battlefield partners” and other canine helpers are no less brave.

Belgian Malinois dogs, says Furstinger, are “canine superheroes” with speed and courage and are a “top breed for police and military work.” Newfoundlands are excellent swimmers and can dive; for those heroic maneuvers, they’re employed in water rescue. Labrador retrievers make great arson dogs, while many breeds serve as companions and helpers for veterans. And as for the future, scientists are looking at robots to replace dogs in battle, but they’ll never replace K-9s in our hearts.

You would had to have been born two months ago to not know that dogs are important members of military troops, crime-fighting organizations and anti-drug efforts. For most of us, it’s always been that way; K-9 corps are a common sight.

So why read “Paws of Courage”?

I wondered that myself. Furstinger tells some rather common tales of military and working dogs, then and now; you might not recognize them individually, but the stories are familiar, if not similar to others you’ve browsed or seen online. Been there, read it, kept the collar — except for two easy-to-love things: the abundance of pictures in this book and the sidebars of information.

Yup. They’re like kibble to dog people.

You might find this book in the children’s section of your favorite bookish place, but I think it’s more for readers ages 14 to adult. Give “Paws of Courage” to your dog-lover especially, and you’ll be a hero.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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