A group of 20 young people with disabilities have been recruited into the IDF’s K-9 unit and will be stationed as dog handlers on bases around the country.
The first ever human-canine graduation ceremony for special needs soldiers, was held at the Beit Dagan veterinary center on Tuesday. The recruits and their four-legged friends concluded their lengthy training with a presentation of the skills they learnt, guiding the dogs through an obstacle course exercise.
“Special in Uniform,” the organization that developed the course, is a signature program of the army that integrates Israeli youths with mental or physical disabilities into the IDF.
The participants were carefully selected and matched with instructors and dogs. They developed the skills needed to operate a kennel, including handling, grooming, exercising and feeding dogs.
“The program initially, was an unlikely fit. I actually hated dogs. I was really scared of them, and I never had a dog. But I knew this will be good opportunity for me overcome my fear of dogs and to serve in the IAF's dog program. The Air Force needs dogs because its bases are a highly desirable target for a terrorist attack, as well as for simple robbers. I really wanted to go for it,” said Amir, a young adult with who is diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
“The relationship between the soldiers and the dogs is amazing,” said Kobi Malca a program director in “Special in Uniform”. “The dog is a communicative animal. It reacts, and it accepts us as we are. The ability to direct a dog using dog-training language contributes to enhancing self-assurance and creates a source of motivation for activities. It enables setting and accepting boundaries, develops tolerance, and develops the ability to accept others, and feel empathy towards others.”
The graduates will now be stationed in different military and police bases, working with guard-dogs, detection dogs and search and rescue dogs.
Partnered with the Jewish National Fund, “Special in Uniform” seeks to ensure that the army is an inclusive place for everyone. Though military enlistment is mandatory in Israel, exemptions are given on basis of disability. Throughout their service, “Special in Uniform” volunteers receive life-skill lessons and are provided with career assistance and placement to ensure a smoother transition into civilian life.
photo credit: SPECIAL IN UNIFORM