Why Hero Military Dogs Can Only Receive Honorary Purple Hearts

People around the world have been touched by the viral photos of Rocky, a wounded military dog, sharing a hospital bed with his handler, Specialist Andrew Brown. Both were injured by an IED explosion in Afghanistan earlier this month.

What’s especially moving about one of the photos, which was posted on the 89th Military Police Brigade’s Facebook page, is the Purple Heart on Rocky’s collar.

Photo credit: YouTube

Photo credit: YouTube

Did the military dog who suffered a broken leg and shrapnel wounds really receive this honor?

The answer is no. It was only awarded to Brown.

“The Army typically does not process awards for our working dogs the same way we do for our other soldiers,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Garrett, public affairs officer for the 89th Military Police Brigade, told the Killeen Daily Herald. “The Purple Heart in the photo was placed on Rocky as a sign of respect and solidarity between him and Brown during their recovery.”

Ever since World War II, the U.S. military has only awarded the Purple Heart to two-legged heroes. Rocky and a handful of other military dogs have only received honorary or commemorative Purple Hearts.

“The use of military decorations is limited to human personnel who distinguish themselves in service to the nation,” Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said in 2010, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

For the past 10 years, Ron Aiello, founder of the United States War Dog Association, has been urging the Department of Defense to establish an official medal for those military dogs who also distinguish themselves in service to the U.S.

“They say they can’t do that,” he told the AKC. “We utilize these dogs and they are recognized as a large asset to our military. But we can’t honor them.”

The last military dog to officially be honored with a Purple Heart was Chips, the most decorated dog of World War II.

“For ‘singlehandedly’ wiping out a machine-gun nest in Italy, a dog named Chips was awarded the D.S.C., the Silver Star and the Purple Heart,” TIME reported in February 1944.

All the press Chips was getting caught the attention of the commander of the Order of the Purple Heart, according to Military.com. The commander complained to President Roosevelt and the War Department that giving the Purple Heart to a dog demeaned all the men who had received one.

Chips was allowed to keep his medals, but the Army’s adjutant general, Major General James A. Ulio, ruled that no other dogs would receive the Purple Heart, TIME reported.

The most decorated dog in U.S. military history was Purple Heart recipient “Sergeant” Stubby, who saved hundreds of lives during World War I by sniffing out mustard gas and barking to alert the troops when he heard artillery fire.

What’s especially unfair is that not only would this four-legged hero not receive a Purple Heart today, but he would not be allowed to live on any U.S. Army base. Why? Because Stubby would be considered a Pit Bull mix, one of several dog breeds banned from military bases today because they’re considered dangerous.

There is some good news for military dogs. Last month, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which guarantees that when these dogs retire, they will be returned by the military to the United States instead of being left behind, as they have been in the past. (For a sad example, the 4,000 or so military dogs who served in Vietnam were never returned to U.S. soil.)

The military dogs’ handlers will have first dibs on adopting their partners.

As for Rocky, he is still recovering while Brown has returned home.

“He is expected to make a full recovery, and depending on how fast he recovers, could be home soon,” the 89th Military Police Brigade reported on its Facebook page Dec. 15.

“Both Rocky and SPC Brown are doing very well and are grateful for the outpouring of support. We can’t wait to have them home. Proven in Battle!”

Photo credit: YouTube


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

The dogs bravely serve, they deserve the award. Or develop special awards for the dogs.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga3 years ago

dogs are awesome

Patricia Harris
John Taylor3 years ago

Why? Because dogs are man's best friend! So loyal, so affectionate, and they're always by your side!

Cela V.
Cela V3 years ago


Florence Baribeau

That's great, bringing the working dogs back is an awesome recognition!

ALI AHARBIL3 years ago

I do agree that dogs shoud get rewarded for theire services because they risk theire live like human in the conflict but theire reward must be something they care about what does a dog car if he is awarded the highest honor if he is hungry and homeless theire reward must be something like life long food security medical care and shelter

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

They are a TEAM!

Shin Takahashi
Shin Takahashi3 years ago

It's worth to be honored however should consider how will honor rather than medal.

Marie W.
Marie W3 years ago

Dogs want a home not medals.