Are Military Working Dogs Being Euthanized?

Last week, an online petition calling for an end to the process of euthanizing retired Military Working Dogs was being circulated. I was outraged. I had no idea that this practice was taking place, so I looked into the matter. All roads led back to the process of adopting retired Military Working Dogs (MWDs), a process some say needs to be streamlined for the benefit of OCONUS MWDs.

In November, 2000 Congress passed Robby's Law (HR 5314), a law allowing the adoption of suitable, retired MWDs. Now there is a push to amend HR 5314 to make the adoption process easier. Currently, retired and adopted MWDs serving OCONUS are classified as "excess equipment," a classification which prevents the DoD from paying for transport back to a CONUS destination. The DoD only pays to transport that which is classified as "manpower" or "equipment." This means that an adoptive family must pay the cost to transport an OCONUS MWD back to the states.

But those who retire on U.S. military bases normally are not transported back to the States unless their adopter wants to pay for it.

“Once that dog is adopted, it becomes a pet, and therefore loses its [military working dog] status,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog told the Air Force News Service in 2009, when she was the Air Force’s director of security forces. “So it would be fraud, waste and abuse for the DoD to transport that pet.”

Kandoll said she would be happy if DoD would go halfway and at least transport the dogs stateside.

Advocates for the amendment are hoping for three changes; a new classification for retired MWDs, DoD to absorb the cost to transport MWDs stateside and a Commendation and Medal for Meritorious MWD Service for Active Duty MWDs.

Rather than creating a new classification, it seems the issue would be less complicated if the DoD simply refused to "retire" a MWD until it was stateside so that MWDs wouldn't be forced into the "excess equipment" category prematurely and would be eligible for military transport to a CONUS destination. I'm unsure why this isn't a viable solution.

But that aside, let's look at the euthanasia claim. Upon closer inspection, the causes petition is a bit dated and lacking in basic facts. Someone must have stumbled across the Causes petition and revived it. I've received several emails over the past few days about this issue. It's easy to see how some would jump to the conclusion that this practice is widespread and current (as I did). But everything I've read tends to debunk this.

There have been cases of MWDs being euthanized, or at least coming close to it. You may recall the recent story of Rocky, a disabled MWD who narrowly escaped euthanasia. The public outcry and wide dissemination of his story saved his life. According to the experts at Pets for Patriots who run the Pet Corner, these cases are rare. Most MWDs are adopted by handlers, military families or civilians. Clearly there are MWDs who, like pets in general, have health  issues that could render them unattractive to potential adoptive families. However, Rocky's story proves that when the public is made aware of such cases, someone usually steps up.

How often do we lose a MWD who wasn't as fortunate as Rocky and whose story didn't get out and tear at our heartstrings? I don't know. What I'd really like to see is a process whereby these stories, however infrequent, are brought to the public's attention. There are a million softies like myself who would be more than willing to give a dog, even a special needs dog, a loving home for the remainder of his life.

Lackland Air Force Base is home to the DoD Military Working Dog School. Retired Military Working Dogs are available for adoption and if you live within two hours of Lackland, the DoD is looking for families to foster their MWD puppies. If you're interested in learning more, visit the official Military Working Dog site.

Research suggests that in past conflicts retired MWDs were left behind to fend for themselves in places like Vietnam, and others were indeed euthanized because there was no procedure in place for adoption. Robby's Law has corrected that injustice. These dogs have served their nation valiantly and have saved countless lives. They deserve every chance possible to live out their golden years in peace and happiness. By all accounts, MWDs suitable for adoption are getting that chance thanks to the long list of people willing and waiting to adopt them.

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