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Bhakta Emir, the War Hero

by Mitravinda dasi

Posted April 11, 2012

Out of millions of dogs that take birth, only the rare dog is destined to become a military working dog, trained in the service of a human military. Out of thousands of military working dogs, even more rare is the highly trained canine that ends up rescued, taking shelter of Krsna’s devotees.

One such fortunate soul is Bhakta Emir. He may just be a dog, but he is credited with saving over a thousand human lives during his six-year career in the United States Air Force. Having survived four deployments to Iraq as a bomb-sniffing dog, he is a living, breathing animal that no technology can duplicate.

How is it that Bhakta Emir landed his retirement, honoring prasadam and hearing the Holy Name? Bhakta Emir needs votes from animal lovers everywhere in his new devotee community. He is the first war-dog devotee to ever be nominated in the Hero Dog Awards, sponsored by the American Humane Association. Emir is a true here, not only because of his military duties but because he brings the mission of Lord Chaitanya into a culture that otherwise would never know.

This is how it all began. Before I knew Bhakta Emir, several years ago while I myself was still on active duty in the United States Army, I received a phone call from a friend. It was an emergency situation: one of the military dogs was to be euthanized. Why would the military put down its own?

I learned really fast the injustice of the military to war animals; in the end they are "equipment." I learned what the dogs are trained to do. Saving countless human lives, these animals spend their entire lives performing the greatest of military heroics time and time again, until they break and are thereafter useless to the armed forces, thrown to the curb, often euthanized for no other reason than that they are taking up valuable kennel space. The history and details are too extensive to mention in this article alone.

That first dog, who had been named Billy, I would come to call Bali. The day I picked him up I questioned myself: what did I just agree to do? Was this a mistake? Oh Krishna, this is going to be very difficult. There was no way I was going to let Billy be euthanized, but was I qualified to care for a police dog, a combat-trained animal — in essence, a weapon that I had no clue how to handle?

The second day I began training with local police to learn everything I needed to know to become a qualified canine handler. Today I organize "war dog rescue" and am qualified as a handler.

I strongly discourage anybody from taking up this task without training. These dogs must be carefully placed; they are not pets; these dogs are weapons. Such weapons can only be placed in the hands of responsible Kshatriyas. Military, police, firefighters and emergency-medical-response paramedics are the only people I consider as adoptive homes. The dogs are not suited to being around small children, and 6-foot to 7-foot (1.8m to 2.1m) solid fences around backyards are needed.

The day I took this beast, Bali, to my home, I wondered what to do next. His body was badly burned from a bomb explosion, an improvised explosive device (IED), in 2005. Shrapnel was embedded in his shoulder, and he had a back injury where he could hardly use his hindquarters. Running my fingers through his fur, I could feel scar after scar across his body.

The first time I looked into his eyes, I saw a warrior, a fallen Kshatriya. What must have happened for this soul to land in the body of a dog?

What struck me as most odd at first was this dog’s high level of discipline and self-control. If I gave a command, he immediately followed the instruction and could follow up to five commands in the order they were given. Was this a dog? I had to get this animal back to some sort of health; his first meal was prasadam. Bali would spend the next two years honoring daily prasadam, hearing the Holy Name and drinking Ganga Jal. Bali eventually left his body two years later, in deep ecstatic pleasure of hearing the Holy Name.

I was receiving from every animal rescue organization imaginable. I cannot save every animal in the world. There is only one animal I can help: the broken war dog. They come for rehabilitation; my entire home eventually was remodelled to accommodate the broken war dogs that came — a shelter suited for their particular needs. At the same time this home also houses Their Lordships Sri Sri Nitai Gaurachandra, so it requires great efforts to keep up a Vaishnava standard and continue a clean environment that is suited for sadhana.

The retired military working dogs are by no means idle. I keep them employed working in a new field: the treatment and healing of soldiers returning from combat. These animals continue to serve their human comrades. Bhakta Emir leads the way in his attendance at programs for veterans groups and on visits to military installations. Every presentation that he and I attend or facilitate starts with my description of the battle of Kurukshetra. The Kshatriya today, who is filled with pain from war injuries, physical and mental, knows that we are not these bodies, and that freedom from doubt or guilt can be found in the Bhagavad-gita. Bhakta Emir is my preaching buddy, an example of how we are not these bodies but spirit souls. Such a fortunate soul is Emir, to be able to get this chance!

Please vote for Bhakta Emir, the war hero. Bhakta Emir is one of 18 nominees in the third annual American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in the Military Working Dog category. Out of almost a hundred dogs nominated for the various Hero Dog Awards — all types of canine heroes from guide dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, police dogs and military dogs — only Bhakta Emir is the prasadam-eating hero-devotee who helps to preach the Bhagavad-gita to soldiers.

The event is a fundraiser for the American Humane Association and associated charities, and Bhakta Emir needs our votes to win. Another page has a biography of Emir, formally known as military working dog (MWD) Emir H323. If you go to this page, there is a blue box on the right side of the web page that is entitled "Vote for MWD Emir H323 !" Click on that box to cast your vote. You will be asked to enter your e-mail address and to answer a simple arithmetic question designed to prove you are not a robot. You can cast one vote per day per e-mail account at this site.

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