After much discussion about the issue, and with the matter having been raised in Parliament, the Army decided in 1968 that at the end of their working lives the dogs would be kept by the battalion as a reserve, then given as pets to European or Australian families resident in Saigon. Only as a last resort, if no home could be found, would they be destroyed. In the event, none of the 11 dogs who served in Vietnam was put down, with homes being found for the ten who survived. (One dog, Cassius, died of heat exhaustion after a training run.)
Having to part with their dogs at the end of their tours was often the hardest thing the dog handlers had to face in Vietnam. Some likened it to losing a child. Denis Ferguson trained Marcus in Australia and served with his ‘mate’ during two tours of Vietnam. Ferguson applied through all the appropriate Army channels to take Marcus home with him, even offering to pay all the quarantine costs. The curt refusal he received -- no reasons were given -- caused Ferguson trauma that he still feels deeply.
Nui Dat, South Vietnam, 1967. Soldiers from Fire Assault, Platoon Tracking Team, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), wait through a tropical downpour on the Battalion heli pad, Porky 7, to carry out helicopter winching training with the tracking dogs, Tiber and Justin.
The family of Garry Polglase, the handler of Julian, had a similar experience. PoIglase was accidentally killed in Vietnam in April 1968, and his mother applied to have the dog brought home soon after her son’s death. After questions were raised in Parliament, and the family had conducted a public campaign that raised enough money to pay the quarantine costs of all the tracker dogs, the Army confirmed its policy on the fate of the dogs and refused the request.
The dogs were the core of Combat Tracker Teams that were used from 1967 until the last combat troops left in late 1971.
These refusals might have been easier to bear had the handlers been told one apparent reason for them. An Army veterinary report noted that large numbers of American tracker dogs in Vietnam had died from a tropical disease, thought (but not confirmed) to be transmitted by ticks. The disease, which very quickly caused massive haemorrhaging in all major organs, was hard to detect and could be carried by the dogs without symptoms for some time. The report strongly recommended that no tracker dogs be allowed back into Australia, “even under strict quarantine”, until the mode of transmission of the disease was discovered. By the end of 1972 the majority of Australian troops, including the dog handlers, were home from Vietnam. Most got on with their lives, more or less successfully, but their dogs were never far from their thoughts.
The Military & Service Working Dog National Monument at Wacol, Brisbane. The monument recognises the continuing contribution of Military and Law Enforcement dog teams to Australia's internal and external security. The monument also incorporates the memorial to Sapper Smith and Explosive Detection Dog "Herbie".
Haran felt that his dog, Caesar, … had been forgotten as a soldier, and soldiers should not be forgotten in war; there should be some sort of memory of them. Many ex-handlers shared this feeling, and it resulted in a permanent memorial to the dogs being erected in Australia. The Australian War Dog Memorial, complete with carved statue and a drinking trough for dogs, was unveiled at a ceremony on the Alexandra Headland, on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, in April 2001. An inaugural reunion of past and present trackers in Queensland in March 2002 further cemented the bonds between those who served with these remarkable dogs of war, and highlighted their importance and rightful place in Australian military history.
After a lapse of some years, tracker dogs are again serving with Australian forces on peacekeeping and other missions overseas. The dogs are now brought back to Australia at the end of their service.