Point of View

When dogs retire from the military

December 7, 2012 

As a young girl, I was surrounded by different aspects of military life because my father served in the U.S. Air Force. One of the things that I found most interesting was the military’s working dogs.

I was struck by the dogs’ extraordinary intelligence and fierceness while conducting military drills – including detecting bombs, enforcing security, sniffing out narcotics, protecting our troops and even on the mission to get Osama bin Laden. Then I discovered what happens to these dogs after their retirement.

These working dogs do not get any recognition for their services, are not entitled to military veterinary care after retirement and are, sadly, classified by the government as “equipment.” Currently, many retired dogs classified as equipment are not available for adoption and must be euthanized, usually because of wartime injuries or incomplete training.

Some dogs, usually those with thorough training and few injuries, are adoptable by the soldier who had the dog in combat. Unfortunately, there are many stories about soldiers who return from service overseas who cannot adopt their canine partner because they are unable to afford the cost of the animal’s flight home and post-retirement veterinary care.

Consider how these soldiers feel, having served with and connected with these dogs, then losing them because they cannot afford to care for the animals.

Service dogs are treated this way by the military because current federal law requires it. The 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act classified military working dogs as “equipment to be discarded when worn out.” The law was amended in 1997 by President Bill Clinton to permit federal dog handlers (for example, soldiers) to adopt their dog retirees.

These dogs risk their lives just as much as a human soldiers do, and they should not be treated inhumanely – so let’s make a change!

Thanks to three organizations (the United States War Dog Association, Retired Military Working Dog Assistance and Military Working Dog Adoptions), the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. 4103, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, which states that military working dogs should be classified as “canine members of the armed forces.”

This bill provides that if a dog should be retired, and no suitable adoption is available at the military facility where the dog is located, the dog may transfer to the 341st Training Squadron or to another location for adoption. It also authorizes the acceptance of the donation of frequent traveler miles to facilitate the adoption of a dog, and directs the secretary of defense to establish and maintain a system to provide for the lifetime veterinary care of retired, adopted dogs.

At a January 2012 press conference, the bill’s co-sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, stated that its purpose “is to recognize [the dogs’] service, the strength and loyalty they demonstrate when they are in combat, and to return that loyalty when they come back.”

This bill is now before the U.S. Senate. On behalf of these service animals, please consider writing or calling North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan in support of S. 2134, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act. I have started a petition and already have 300 signatures to send to our congressional delegation. Together, we can be a voice on behalf of these service dogs.

Heather Benson is a senior at West Johnston High School.

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