History American Red Cross Service Dogs – Serving Wounded Warriors
Red Cross – American Civil War
The American Red Cross was founded May 21, 1881. It was founded by Clara Barton when she was sixty years old.
Clara had been a schoolteacher, a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, and had earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” during the Civil War. Clara Barton’s experiences of collecting and distributing supplies to soldiers during the Civil War, as well as working as a nurse on battlefields, made her a champion for the rights of wounded soldiers.
After the Civil War, Barton lobbied for the establishment of an American version of the International Red Cross and for the United States to sign the Geneva Convention. She succeeded with both. Clara became the first president of the American Red Cross and led the organization for the next 23 years.
America Red Cross WW 1
On June 6, 1900, the American Red Cross was given a congressional charter that mandated the organization to fulfill the provisions of the Geneva Convention, by rendering aid to those wounded during the war, providing communication between family members and members of the U.S. military, and administering relief to those affected by disasters during peacetime. The charter also protects the Red Cross emblem (a red cross on a white background) for use only by the Red Cross.
While the American Red Cross did not officially use service dogs during World War I, volunteers on their own, and several foreign Red Cross societies employed dogs that greatly aided the Allied forces during the war. A number of these dogs were attached to ambulance units and aided their handlers in the search for wounded warriors.
The Red Cross dogs were trained to seek out a wounded soldier and get as close as possible so the soldier could access the dogs’ saddle bags, which contained first aid supplies and rations. Instead of barking and alerting the enemy, the dogs were trained to bring back something belonging to the soldier.
The retrieval method was eventually replaced when it became apparent that the dogs would occasionally accidentally tear off a bandage in their eagerness to return with something from the wounded soldier. Some Red Cross societies trained the dogs to return to their handler with an attached leash in their mouth to signify the discovery of a wounded soldier.
Red Cross dogs did more than locate wounded soldiers, they provided messenger and delivery services, often carrying 25 to 30-pound packs of ammunition and rations through dangerous territory. These dogs also acted as scouts and guarded strategic posts, such as weapons factories.
This Alexander Pope painting depicts a World War I Red Cross dog carrying the helmet of a wounded French soldier in the midst of a deadly gas barrage.
American Red Cross World War 11
World War I exponentially expanded the American Red Cross by significantly increasing Red Cross chapters, volunteers, and funds. The American Red Cross sent thousands of nurses overseas, helped organize the home front, and established veterans’ hospitals, delivered care packages, organized ambulances, and trained dogs to search for wounded.
In World War II, the American Red Cross played a similar role but also sent millions of packages of food to POWs, began a blood collection service to aid the wounded, and established clubs such as the famous Rainbow Corner to offer entertainment and food to servicemen.
Following World War II, The American Red Cross began using therapy dogs with convalescing service members in the Army Air Force Convalescent Center in Pawling, New York. Many of the dogs were even acquired as pets for the recovering soldiers. The American Red Cross still uses therapy dogs today. These dogs and their owners volunteer in shelters and nursing homes across the country and in hospitals around the world. American Red Cross dogs afford moments of joy in the wake of disasters and provide hope to those recovering from illness or injury.
Though the American Red Cross has been given a mandate by Congress to serve America during disasters and wars, it is not a federally funded organization; it is actually a non-profit, charitable organization that receives its funding only from public donations.
Since the Civil War the American Red Cross has continued to offer aid to citizen’s and military victims of disasters and wars. The Red Cross continues to be an invaluable and trusted source for all Americans, offering aid to millions affected by wars and disasters.
“The extraordinarily brave and unselfish efforts of Clara Barton, at the age 60 years old, in the devastation of the Civil war shows us that one woman, with compassion and a mission to serve those in need, can help society. It is America’s non-profit organizations with their caring, and compassionate volunteers, who day in and day out make this world a kinder and gentler place for us all.
Article by Steven Monahan, Founder-Executive Director Green Pets America Charities, nonprofit.