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War Dogs

War Dogs

Story and photos by Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief

War Dogs They call them "cohabitants," the mutts, mongrels, and abandoned dogs of Bosnia. They are everywhere, being left behind by people or armies who have left the field. Many times, NATO forces find themselves sharing the bombed out-ruins of the ZOS (Zone Of Separation) with them when they move in to occupy their checkpoints. There are standing orders that forbid adopting Bosnia's pups as mascots, but as the old saying goes, "You can't separate a boy from his dog."

Under General Order #1, it is forbidden for U.S. troops to adopt "Mascots", ie: dogs, lizards, cats, turtles, or I suppose, street urchins. However, as with every law, loopholes will be found. The best loophole of them all is the Dayton agreement itself. When NATO troops occupy an area they cannot force living things to depart that area unless they are the armed forces of the warring parties, and then only in the ZOS. Otherwise, all creatures in the area are considered cohabitants. Technically, this applies to dogs.

In addition, there is the freedom of movement clause that ensures that creatures will have complete freedom of movement throughout Bosnia. No one ever said anything about dogs. So long as they are not bearing arms and trying to cross the ZOS while doing so, they have freedom of movement as well. This could not suit the troops better.

There is something special about dogs and young men. As a young man, my dog was truly my best friend. He never worried about what I wore, how I smelled, or how late I had stayed out. When I was growing up, we always had a few dogs running around and they were considered part of our family. We called them by their names and they had their own special places about the house that were strictly theirs, very much like our bedrooms. They were friends and protectors, and since childhood I could never understand people who didn't like dogs. It just seemed so impractical and cold-blooded.

War Dogs The same apparently holds true for almost every American outpost I have visited. One in particular was checkpoint "Shark," north of Tuzla, and manned by A Company of the 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Combat Team from Vinchinza, Italy. When I arrived there, they were awaiting relief from the Russian forces who were to take over that sector. They were bored and cold and the only diversion from staring into the deserted no-man's land of the ZOS was filling sandbags and playing with the dogs.

When they occupied their lonely hilltop outpost, there was a whole family of canines living there. There was a papa dog, a mama dog, and four baby dogs. Under the Dayton rules, they were there first and were not combatants and therefore were cohabitants.

Captain Bill Burleson of Williamsburg, Virginia, briefed me on the situation when I arrived. His outfit had been out there for two weeks, just trying to stay warm and filling sandbags. The Serbs and Muslims had briefed them on the location of the minefields in the area, the engineers had marked or cleared them, and the warring factions had departed. All except for the dogs, who had established themselves in a blasted out shed next to his mortar section.

"You know when we came here we were pretty worried about the situation with dogs and whether or not they might be a threat to the troops with diseases and such," he told me, "but I had the vet come up from Tuzla and check 'em out. They came up clean so we let 'em stay." He went on to caution me to specifically refer to them as "cohabitants" and told me of the general order about mascots. "They're good to have around," he said "keeps the guys from going crazy and they're good for security. This is definitely their hill."

He was right. When coming up the winding road that fishooks along the 325's perimeter, and when going down again, the papa dog sounded off loud and clear, going down past the outpost's wire to keep an eye on me. He was a living, breathing trip-flare that never slept. His wife and children were up on that hill, the GIs were his friends, and anything that came near them got scouted out.

"We were up here the other night and they started going off." Rodney Pullen of Norfolk, Virginia, told me. "We got up and took a look with our starlights and didn't see anything, but something was out there and he either smelled 'em or sensed 'em. Either way, whatever it was, it didn't get close enough to worry about so that was cool by us."

So it seems. The paras on the hill also told me about how there were some mongrels that looked like they had gone wild and were roaming around in a pack. Mama and Papa had run them off as well, taking care of a potential problem in their own sort of dog way. So much for disease dogs in the wire.

For a while at Tuzla air base there was a shoot-on-sight order in effect for dogs seen within the perimeter. This caused quite a row, I was told when, the Americans first arrived. Seems that some Danish U.N. troops had been feeding one and had sort of adopted it when an American MP walked up and blew out it's brains with his Berretta. Quite the uproar, I was told, and the Americans chilled out after that. But that is Tuzla HQ and things tend to be tighter closer to the flag of command.

War Dogs