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American Military Hero Dog Gabe Teaches Us About Grit and Greatness

At A Glance

Heard about Gabe? No, I don’t mean the supporting character in Captain America - The First Avenger. I’m referring to Gabe, the retired military dog with more than 200 combat missions in Iraq to his credit. And Gabe deserves a special mention for:

  • Surviving on mere grit after being abandoned on the street
  • Being voted American Hero dog of 2012 after beating 7 other equally admirable canine compatriots
  • For winning $15,000 for the United States War Dog Association, a non-profit he was associated with

One can’t really put a number on how many lives military dog Gabe and others of his ilk have saved during their service in the United States armed forces.

Military working dogs are usually purchased from European breeders and are raised to work in the military or with the police from an early age. However, given the scarcity of good dogs, the U.S had started taking in the occasional stray, and Gabe was one of them.

For those not in the know, with over 2500 dogs, the United States has the largest canine force in the world. This elitist group of military dogs includes English Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Jack Russell terriers, among others.

In early 2013, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act signed by President Obama came into effect, reclassifying military dogs like Gabe from equipment to service members.

 

The Long Road to Becoming A Hero

Gabe, the dog, was doggedness defined. The formerly homeless yellow labrador retriever was serving ‘dog jail time’ in a kill shelter in Houston and was about to be put down.

But fate intervened. He was rescued by a couple from the Southeast Texas Labrador Retriever Rescue Organization. They’d heard about his days on the street and his exploits, which included warding off coyotes and other stray dogs to stay alive.

His life on the street had sharpened his ability to observe, overcome, and outsmart adversaries. And there was something about his demeanor that made him special.

They saw his potential to win battles beyond the streets. They understood that if Gabe could be trained to channel his survival instincts, he could outsmart enemies on actual battlefields. Then 3 years old, Gabe was drafted into the U.S Army.

They had a significant role in mind for him — assisting military operations and sniffing out explosives. The courageous canine was paired with his handler, Army Staff Sergeant Charles “Chuck” Shuck, who’d joined the military after graduating high school.

The duo finished the Specialized Search Dog Program at the Department of Defense Dog School at Lackland Airbase in Texas with flying colors. Gabe topped certification tests with perfect scores, and the duo was sent to Mosul, Iraq, in 2006.

Now a certified United States Army Specialized Search Dog, Gabe’s future, while no longer bleak, was definitely perilous.

a service dog on leash

Acts of Heroism

Hero dogs are born, not made.

“Gabe hero dog” had a nice ring to it and he lived deserving of that tag. His heroic exploits in Iraq and his selfless service made him one of the most famous service dogs that ever lived.

Gabe completed a total of 210 missions in a single deployment, of which 170 were combat patrols where Gabe had to lead columns of troops through dangerous areas while sniffing for IEDs. He had 26 successful finds, unearthing 26 caches of hidden explosives, weapons, and ammunition while risking life and limb.

While off duty, this courageous military dog provided comfort to deployed troops. He was a regular at the unit’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation tent. Along with Shuck, he also visited combat hospitals and units mourning the loss of their fellow soldiers.

“Gabe was a piece of home to them”, reminisced Shuck. They’d left their families behind; they’d left their dogs behind. For them to just put their face in Gabe’s fur for a few seconds would take them back home — and get them back to where they needed to be.”

With his valor and indomitable spirit, Gabe was an inspiration and soon gained the respect and admiration of the troops.

Gabe the Dog And His Rise to Fame

Gabe won more than 40 awards for his meritorious service, including three Army Commendation medals and an Army Achievement Medal. And that’s not all.

He also won dozens of military coins of excellence and a Good Conduct Medal, while his handler was awarded the Bronze Star. When questioned about the award, a humble Shuck said — “We’re really not heroes. “We love what we do.”

a cute Labrador dog

Gabe Wins The Heart of A Grateful Nation

After his return home in 2008, Gabe received the 2008 Heroic Military Working Dog Award Medal from the American Kennel Club.

The start of the contest saw a total of 359 dogs, including therapy dogs, law enforcement dogs, service dogs, guide dogs, military dogs, hearing dogs, emerging hero dogs, and search and rescue dogs competing in eight categories. It eventually came down to eight finalists.

Gabe was selected the winner by a panel of judges that included Whoopi Goldberg. He won a total of $15,000, which the duo donated to the United States War Dogs Association, a non-profit organization for former and current military working dog handlers. It supports, honors, and memorializes MWDs.

Funds donated to the organization are used to buy care packages for dog and handler teams like protective dog goggles, boots, ear muffs, vests, toys, and hygiene kits.

In a poignant message during the awarding, Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of the American Humane Association, stated, “It is vital that we honor and protect all our military heroes – at both ends of the leash.”

Rising from obscurity to fame and the annals of military history, Gabe hobnobbed with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, and Betty White.

cute brown labrador retriever

A Labrador’s Legacy

Like many heroic pets, his larger-than-life story makes people wonder, “Is Gabe the dog real?” Yes, very much!

Gabe lived an action-packed and inspiring life. He retired in 2009 with the rank of sergeant first class. After Gabe’s retirement, Chuck adopted him. Together they raised awareness about the plight of dogs in need of homes.

After retirement, Gabe enjoyed four years of peaceful and treat-filled life with fellow rescue dogs, Lena and Duke. However, in February 2013, Gabe was diagnosed with liver and spleen cancer, and it was too late to operate.

Shuck made the hard decision of putting Gabe to sleep on February 13, 2013, and cradled his brave military partner as he passed after a life well lived. He was 10 years old and surrounded by his treats, toys, and medals, summing up the kind of life he lived – one of survival, spunk, and selfless service.

a labrador retriever dog in the grass

Honored In Life, Death, and Beyond

In a tribute video by Hallmark Channel for the awards nomination, Commanding General BG Bryan Roberts recalls how Gabe was tremendously skilled, whether raiding houses to tracking and finding explosives in vehicles. He was a hardworking, reliable Iraq veteran dog who assisted the troops in danger zones.

Like many other hero dogs that served alongside troops since WW1, Gabe’s epic journey teaches us that we can be anything.

Aside from the words of those who witnessed his heroism, and the numerous awards and medals he received, ordinary people have also honored Gabe’s life and legacy, memorializing him through paperback books, sculptures, deviant art, portraits, and more.

Gabe’s heartening story of tenacity and triumph lives on in the hearts of those whose lives he touched in more ways than one.

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Paul Andrews
https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-andrews-172490189/

A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.