Last year, four military dogs received medals for valor in the inaugural American Humane K-9 Medal of Courage Awards, with American Humane President Robin Ganzert saying at the ceremony on Capitol Hill, “We feel it is time to recognize and honor the extraordinary feats and acts of devotion these heroic animals perform every day.” Military dogs are valued for their noses, their ability to sniff out IEDs, weapons caches, other buried explosives, as well as their loyalty and high intelligence. There’s a YouTube clip showing a soldier reuniting with his military dog, and as the soldier approaches the dog’s cage, the dog starts howling with joy and excitement. She can smell him coming. Once the cage door opens, the dog—a scrappy black Labrador—circles endlessly around her former handler, not even stopping for pats or kisses. If the bond between human and dog is already intense, dogs being what they are, then the bond between a military dog handler and his or her canine partner is even more so. “Megan Leavey,” directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, tells the story of the profound bond between a Marine corporal and her war dog Rex.
Based on a true story, “Megan Leavey” is that rare breed: a war movie that actually shows something new about war, a sub-culture within a familiar sub-culture, the world of the military’s K-9 units. For that alone, it should be applauded. Everyone should know how incredible these dogs are. But beyond its fascinating informational aspects, “Megan Leavey” is a powerfully emotional film that somehow—unbelievably, considering the subject matter—avoids sentimentality altogether.