by a former Special Forces Officer
“The Friendship of a dog is precious.”
(Notional display at the entrance to the National Service Dog Museum. Image Source
Since the first canines were domesticated some 40,000 years ago, the dog has played a central role in human conflict. They have served as sentinels, scouts, guardians, messengers, combatants, and companions and to this day are relied upon for their skill, intellect, endurance, and daring under fire.
Over the centuries dogs have played many roles during human combat, everything from catching rats to drawing fire to expose enemy positions. In modern times, however, dogs are given tasks where their special skills and abilities can do the most good. From Patrol dogs in World War Two to tunnel dogs used in Vietnam, to bomb-sniffing dogs searching for Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs have served in every major conflict with courage and honor. Right now, there are about 1,600 military working dogs (MWD) on the frontlines. Those include MWDs who serve alongside our military service members on deployment and thousands more Service dogs assisting our military Veterans with their post-war transition. Many of these dogs have given their lives in the service of the United States.
Today there is not a single museum in America that provides a comprehensive history of the military working dog and support dog for veterans (K9s.) Throughout the country, there are monuments dedicated to war dogs and there are some museum exhibits about their exploits, but there is not one institution dedicated to the study and preservation of their history, service, and heroism.
It seems fitting that a museum be created exclusively for those who provide such invaluable, necessary, and compassionate service.
Mission Statement and Vision
A proposed National Service Dog Museum will have the mission to educate society on the contributions that K9s have made in history and continue to make today through advocacy, education, historical preservation, and investment in research.
The National Service Dog Museum’s vision will present a relevant and dynamic experience for the visitor, originating from its world-class collections, vibrant exhibits, and engaging community outreach programs. The proposed museum will strive to provide an institution where K9s are better understood and appreciated for their military service and contributions to Veterans in transition. The museum will be a place where K9s who served are respected and fully appreciated. The museum’s hallmarks will be innovation, excellence, and engaged community partnerships.
With historically preserved collections and innovatively designed architectural spaces, the museum invites, inspires, and fosters contemplation and discussion. The museum will be known for its exceptional trustees, staff, programs, collections, and visitor amenities. It will serve as a beacon for all who wish to learn, explore, and become involved in the lives of K9s and the Veterans they serve.
The National Service Dog Museum “Big Idea”
A National Service Dog Museum has a critical role to play as an educational and preservation institution and it has three primary purposes. First is to educate visitors about the history and role played by MWDs that serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. It will provide information about the history, training, and exploits of Military Working dogs past, present, and future.
Second, the museum will serve to bring awareness about Service dogs, their inception, and their contributions to Veteran healing, transition, and reconnection. It will highlight the selection, preparation, and contributions made by Service dogs. The museum will explore the many ways that Service dogs aid in the recovery phase and serve as companions after their military service.
Finally, the Museum will bring awareness to the post-service life of Military Working dogs, highlighting the challenges faced by these dogs. The real value to the handler and the K9 is after military service when they are dealing with trauma. Many of these dogs suffer from the physical and psychological wounds of war and are either retired or put down because they are unable to be reintegrated. The Museum will serve as a platform for, and advocate for, the humane and meaningful treatment of these dogs after their service is completed.
The National Service Dog Museum’s core values will center on four main areas:
Truthfulness: Transparency and careful stewardship of resources, including collections, staff, facilities, and investments are essential for mission fulfillment now, and in the future.
Diversity: To fulfill our mission, our commitment to diversity means including, serving, resourcing, validating, and centering our colleagues and community members on an institutional and individual level.
Enriching Lives: To provide opportunities to help K9s and Veterans as they transition back to their communities. To recognize their service, sacrifices, and continuing contributions.
Commitment to Education: To inform and aid in the transfer of knowledge, diverse ideas, and ways of knowing ourselves, our community, and our world while developing an understanding of, and appreciation for K9s and their unique service.
Exhibitions and Interpretations
A proposed National Service Dog Museum would have exhibits with artifacts, displays, videos, and interpretative markers that include the following:
–History of dogs at war. These displays and exhibits will introduce the visitor to the storied history of dogs at war. This will profile the use of military dogs from the earliest civilianizations to modern times.
–Service Military Working Dog history (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coastguard, Special Operations.) This section of the museum will be devoted to each of the Armed Forces’ history and their unique use of Military Working dogs. Each of the Armed Services has used its canines in different capacities, from security to patrolling dogs, to use in special operations. These exhibits and artifacts will address these unique contributions.
–Veteran Service Dog history. These displays and exhibits will introduce the visitor to the inception of the Veteran Service Dog and include artifacts, displays, videos, and interactive mediums to tell the story of these valuable companions. This will profile the important role Service Dogs play in assisting Veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
–K-9 Training. The training of Military Working dogs and Veteran Service dogs is rigorous and intense. These exhibits and displays will highlight the specialized training that Military Working dogs and their handlers undergo at the various training facilities used by the Armed Forces. Included in this section will be the training dogs undergo in special infiltration techniques like parachuting. This will also have exhibits and displays that educate the visitor on the specialized training and requirements for Service dogs.
–The “Ultimate sacrifice” (memorials to Military Working dogs and handlers.) This section will serve as a memorial and place of reflection to all those K9s and their handlers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while at war and at home. This section will include interactive, touch screen monitors that will tell the story of these heroes and the contributions they have made in the service to the nation.
Facilities (Site & Location)
An ideal location for the museum would be in Northern Virginia. This will be a conveniently accessible location for visitors and will be near other nearby national museums. Being in the National Capital Region will also make it convenient for visitors who may only make a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Nation’s capital.
The site will be organized into two buildings configured in a K9 shape. The first building (K building) will be the museum, the second building (9 building) will house the amphitheater, meeting rooms, a research/archive center, and Veterans outreach center. The K building will include a small café that is dog friendly and a gift shop. The museum will be free to the public. Special events hosted at the museum are available for a usage fee and are booked through the museum events coordinator. The museum will be accessible to all and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. A special shuttle service will be available from the parking lot to the entrance to the museum. A security/guest services office will be included to screen visitors and to provide information, public safety, and protection of the museum. The museum will have a video surveillance system and fire suppression systems will be located throughout both buildings.
A robust digital footprint will be part of the museum, this will include representation on major social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) as well as a museum website. The website will have a virtual tour of the museum that utilizes the latest Matterport 3D software with audio narrations. This virtual tour will provide online audiences with detailed tours of the various galleries and their exhibits. Digital archives, records, and databases will also be available through the museum’s research center. Throughout the museum, interactive, touch screen panels will be available to provide detailed interpretations and videos to share historical and informational anecdotes. Additionally, the museum will provide online educational programs for schools. These will include live guided tours with docents.
Educational Programming and Community Outreach
The museum will make maximum effort to educate the public through in-person and e-learning resources by providing both educational programs and community outreach activities. These will include guided tours, interactive community outreach programs, public Working and Service dog demonstrations, and interactive discussion forums such as “Paws for Life” where the visitors can participate in transition programs for dogs and Veterans. In addition, the museum will provide “at home” online activities for children tied to various exhibits and programs. These will include a webpage for children’s activities that will contain available collections of images that can be printed into coloring book pages.
New audiences and future stakeholders will be welcomed by deepening our engagement with local communities. Programs will engage local adults and families with timely, thought-provoking, and entertaining programming. We will deepen partnerships with local schools to enhance their understanding of the museum’s objectives and to better meet their educational needs. All efforts will be made by the museum to increase commitment to supporting local community and Veteran organizations, especially those who support Military Working and Veteran Support dogs. These activities will include tying our mission and collections to the digital audience. The museum will host a virtual “game night” for families that will include the opportunity to win prizes from the museum gift shop. The game night will be an educational quiz show-type event to test the contestants’ knowledge about Service dogs.
The museum will also encourage and expand opportunities for volunteers who contribute to the visitor experience. Opportunities to volunteer will include serving at the museum and also online.
(Wounded Warrior Dog exhibit. Image Source.
One of the main purposes of the museum is to provide a resource for Veterans, their families, and the public to learn about, engage with, and contribute to Veteran transition programs through Veteran Support dogs. The museum will partner with non-profit associations and public agencies to aid in this effort. Additionally, the museum will provide an outreach venue as well as a research center to assist Veterans and retired Military Working dogs. A portion of the sales from the gift shop will go to support these Veteran outreach programs and activities.
A National Service Dog Museum will be dedicated to preserving and communicating to the community the shared history of dogs and humans within the context of conflict. The proposed museum will serve as a unique institution dedicated to both learning and community service. A trip to the museum will inspire millions of people; assist dogs and Veterans alike and share knowledge and research information worldwide. In doing so, the hope is to engage and foster the cooperation of citizens, government agencies, schools, and other institutions to inspire lifelong learning and a commitment to service.
The contributions of Military Working and Veteran Service dogs deserve more than just displays in other museums. This museum will provide an appropriate venue to recognize their many heroic deeds and lasting contributions to our society.
The time to build such a museum is now!
(Notional K9 Memorial Wall exhibit in the Memorial Garden. Image Source)
“Types of War Dogs,” The United States War Dog Association, accessed November 23, 2020, https://www.uswardogs.org/war-dog-history/types-war-dogs/.
“Can Animals Receive Service Medals,” Medals of America-Military Blog, accessed November 22, 2020, https://www.medalsofamerica.com/blog/can-animals-receive-service-medals/.
Anderson, Gail, ed. Reinventing the Museum. Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2012.
“Can Animals Receive Service Medals?” Medals of America-Military Blog. Accessed November 22, 2020, https://www.medalsofamerica.com/blog/can-animals-receive-service-medals/.
“Types of War Dogs.” The United States War Dog Association. Accessed November 23, 2020, https://www.uswardogs.org/war-dog-history/types-war-dogs/.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.