Military working dogs and all that they do to help our soldiers in combat have become more appreciated in recent years, particularly in light of the knowledge that a military dog was part of the team on the ground when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. Interest in military working dogs has led to more articles about them, and television specials, such as tonight’s two-hour premiere Animal Planet documentary Glory Hounds.
In Afghanistan, there are approximately 600 military working dogs (MWDs) serving alongside the men and women in the military, and the dogs’ sole purpose is to protect soldiers and innocent civilians. These military working dogs are highly trained to do what no human or even technology can do — use their keen sense of canine smell to sniff out, locate and signal for explosive devices and track insurgents. To their handlers, these dogs are not merely gear — they are weapons with hearts, minds and souls.
Glory Hounds focuses on the relationships between four handlers and their MWDs in Afghanistan. To chronicle these heroic duos, filmmakers and embedded camera crews got unprecedented access to MWD teams in some of the most volatile regions in Afghanistan. It wasn’t easy. Permission to film in this active war zone required over a year of discussions among producers and four branches of the U.S. military. Once they gained access, camera teams filming the stories told in Glory Hounds got specialized training before spending six weeks in Afghanistan embedded with the troops and military working dogs.
The military working dogs and handlers featured in Glory Hounds are:
Lance Corporal Kent Ferrell and his MWD, Zora: Lance Cpl. Ferrell, 22, of Bel Air, Maryland, grew up with a golden retriever that had a huge impact on his life. Now, as a MWD handler, he develops a deep bond with his German shepherd, Zora, on the front lines. Their partnership is pragmatic and personal; many lives depend on Zora’s ability to sniff out IEDs before they explode, but to Lance Cpl. Ferrell, Zora is more than a defense weapon – she’s his sister-in-arms.
Corporal Drew Nyman and his MWD, Emily: Raised in Emporia, Kansas, 23-year-old Cpl. Nyman’s parents owned a pet shop, so it comes as no surprise that he’s a natural around dogs. Cpl. Nyman wants to make it home to see his wife and newborn son, so it’s imperative, as a MWD handler, to understand what his canine partner, Belgian Malinois Emily, is thinking at all times. Any miscue could be the difference between life and death. Cpl. Nyman and Emily are a combat-tracking team. Emily doesn’t sniff out explosives; she smells humans, and she’s looking for Taliban insurgents deep in the heart of enemy territory.
Staff Sergeant Len Anderson and his MWD, Azza: Staff Sgt. Anderson, 29, from Chestertown, South Carolina, is training for his new role as kennel master with his MWD Azza, a veteran Belgian Malinois who detects bombs. In his role, Staff Sgt. Anderson could remain safely in the compound. He believes real leaders lead from the front, so he receives special permission for Azza and himself to join his troops on patrol outside the wire. Anderson and Azza get caught in the crossfire, and a Glory Hounds cameraman becomes part of the story himself when he drops his camera to help save Staff Sgt. Anderson’s life.
Lance Corporal Durward Shaw and his MWD, Falko: Lance Cpl. Shaw, 21, of Denton, Texas, is Falko’s first-ever MWD handler. Falko, a German Shepherd mix, is an attack dog and an explosive-device tracker. Both handler and dog are newbies in Afghanistan and are part of a security detail operating on Afghanistan’s notorious Highway One, a critical supply artery that’s also one of the deadliest roads in the country. Lance Cpl. Shaw is eager to put his and Falko’s abilities to the test, but every step outside the wire is a step into the unknown. He also is determined to make it home to his wife and his newborn daughter, whom he’s never met, so he relies on Falko to help him stay alive.
The two-hour special Glory Hounds premieres Feb. 21 at 8pm ET/PT on Animal Planet.
Credit: Animal Planet