Story highlights

An estimated 2,300 military working dogs serve on U.S. bases worldwide

They save an average of 150 lives each

Military dogs perform dangerous tasks alongside humans

They are being recognized this week by the American Humane Association

Washington CNN  — 

Military war dogs took center stage Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill, where they were honored for their service.

During the course of their lifetimes, these dogs save an average of 150 lives, and their reward is often paid in treats.

Next, the four-legged heroes can be seen on the red carpet as stars of the first annual “2011 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards,” which is scheduled to air on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, Veterans Day.

Dogs have served in the U.S. military since World War I. They perform dangerous tasks alongside humans, often using their enhanced sense of smell and smaller size to complete searches and rescues.

“When you think about the Osama bin Laden take down, a military dog was there. A hero dog was there,” said Robin Ganzert, president and chief executive of the American Humane Association. That dog would have been outfitted in full gear, including goggles, and was dropped in by helicopter alongside the Navy SEALs, she said.

Another dog, Sage, served in Iraq. She was awarded best “Search and Rescue Dog” by the American Humane Association, picked from among hundreds of nominees. She sniffed out explosives, clearing the way for her handlers and troops to advance on the battlefield.

Like many military servicemen and women, Sage completed multiple missions, her first being at the Pentagon on 9/11. She also served in efforts after Hurricane Katrina and helped to search for missing American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba.

“These military dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs, are putting themselves on the line. They’re out in the front lines,” said Diane Whetsel, head of the Sage Foundation, which helps to provide funding for medical services that military dogs might need.

Sage, the dog, has cancer and is scheduled for a second operation to help treat it.

Today, an estimated 2,300 military working dogs serve on U.S. bases worldwide.

“They’re treated exactly like a soldier, in every way, shape and form,” said Ganzert, “For example when a military war dog is killed in action, there’s often a funeral.”

However, that’s only true until a dog retires from service.

“Did you not know that all military working dogs are equipment, and when they’re retired … they’re excess equipment,” said Debbie Kandoll, who hopes to have their status changed to “military working dog veteran.”

The former high school Spanish teacher educates the public and lawmakers alike on what she sees as easy options for animals returning from overseas deployments. In general, if a dog is not adopted it is put down, which is why Kandoll says she started Military Working Dog Adoptions, a non-profit organization.

Many of Kandoll’s dogs are also trained as therapy dogs and can assist returning soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder.

Congressman James Moran, D-Virginia, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, is championing two bills that would facilitate the adoption of hero dogs by families of fallen soldiers.

He spoke at the Capitol Hill conference on Monday, which was attended by several dogs. But not a bark was heard.

Noticeably missing from the group was Roselle, who died in July, but was selected by the American Humane Association as top “American Dog Hero.” She guided her blind owner, Michael Hingson, down 78 floors in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

In his new book, “Thunder Dog,” Hingson attributes his survival to the team work that his dog demonstrated – not only on that fateful day, but every day of their lives together.

“Sometimes being a hero is just doing your job,” he said.