Retired military working dogs will receive free specialty healthcare following an announcement on Veteran's Day by the American Humane Association, the U.S. War Dogs Association and New Jersey's Red Bank Veterinary Hospital
Experts estimate that military working dogs save the lives of up to 200 troops in war zones by detecting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), locating hidden weapons and tracking down the enemy. Each dog owned by the Defense Department is considered a service member and is assigned a rank one higher than their handlers.
Their retirement benefits, however, are not the same. Technically, the dogs are classified as equipment by the military and are treated upon retirement like tanks or ships. In 2013, Congress included language in the annual defense budget, stating that retired dogs may be transferred to the 341st Training Squadron or put up for adoption.
The Secretary of Defense can also establish a program for the care of these dogs but no federal funds are allocated for the support of such a program.
Today, many former handlers of military working dogs are allowed the first chance to adopt them upon retirement and while the reunions make for popular videos, the handlers then assume the sometimes extreme cost of caring for a dog with special needs. About 5 percent of military dogs used in combat have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, and others have injuries sustained in combat.
The partnership between the American Humane Association, the U. S War Dogs Association and the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital seeks to address those needs through their program which would provide free specialty care to any military dogs and contract dogs.
"When these dogs are adopted out after retirement they can have very expensive medical needs. We've led the call to action on Capitol Hill and now we're encouraging the private industry to get involved to help provide for these heroes," said Robin Ganzert, CEO of the American Humane Association.
She speculates that hundreds of dogs will be helped through the program and hopes the next step is to get private industry and sponsors to step up and provide wellness care for these retired dogs given the lack of funding from the Defense Department.
Military working dogs first officially entered the service in 1942 to serve in the Army's K-9 Corps. The dogs were used in World War I as scout dogs detecting the enemy long before the human soldiers would be able to detect them. In Vietnam, nearly 4,000 dogs were used and 281 were killed in action. Today, more than 2,500 working dogs serve with roughly 500 deployed at any time.
Special Operations groups have come to rely heavily on working dogs, even training them to tandem parachute with their handlers. During the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May of 2011, a Belgian Malinois named Cairo was a part of the team. Later that same year in August, a military working dog was killed with 38 other special operations members when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down while transporting a quick response team.
-- Sarah Blansett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org