Thursday, March 21, 2013

Military Dog Advocates Push For New Status For Canines

James Fausone
Veteran Advocate
Currently there are an estimated 2,500 dogs deployed oversees to assist American troops, sent into situations which include detecting explosives and chasing down an enemy while facing combat and gunfire. It is estimated that each military dog saves approximately 150 soldiers during its years of service. Though in past conflicts, such as Vietnam, military dogs were given away, euthanized or abandoned, today,  a law was passed in 2000 to ensure that canine troops were well-treated. Some 400 military canines are retired from service every year, and adopted into new homes.
Robby's Law, signed in 2000 by President Clinton, allows for the adoption of working dogs (as well as working horses) owned by the Department of Defense -- adopted by their handlers, by civilians with training in their care, and by law enforcement agencies. Robby's Law also requires an accounting of all dogs; the Secretary of Defense must submit an annual report which documents all of the dogs adopted under the program, the dogs still awaiting for adoption, and the dogs that were euthanized, and why (the official policy is that euthanasia is used if the dog is too aggressive to be rehomed, or to prevent suffering).    
Dogs have a long history on the battlefield.  They were used in battle by Attila the Hun and Frederick the Great, by ancient Britons, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, and Slavs. During World War I, dogs were used in the military by Belgium, Germany, France and Russia as scouts, as carriers, and to help find the injured on the field. In The U.S., dogs were officially trained starting in 1942, for the U.S. Army. More recently, military dogs have served in Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Iraq, Korea, and Vietnam. After service, a dog is not left in the combat zone, but is brought back to their duty station.  
Unfortunately, military dogs are still classified as "military equipment," and, as such their transport from their duty station to a new, nonmilitary life is not paid for by the government. The burden is on the dog's new owner to get it home. Currently there are at least two bills proposing that military dogs be reclassified as "canine members of the armed forces" and are awaiting attention from Congress.
There are organizations dedicated to working for these dogs, as well. The nonprofit organization Operation Military K-9 ships care packages to military working dogs and their handlers in the field. The public is invited to donate money or send their own care packages from a list of much-needed items U.S. War Dogs Association works to assist injured military dogs and their handlers recover back on U.S. soil. Military Working Dog Adoptions and Save A Vet work to heighten public awareness of the issues and needs of military working dogs.

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