Military Dogs, Humane Association Visit the Hill to Honor Four-Legged Veterans
Along with three recently reunited military dog teams, the American Humane Association urged Congress to help bring home all canine veterans after they’ve completed their tours of duty.
With their tongues sagging and tails wagging, a group of military war dogs—accompanied by the handlers they served with in Iraq and Afghanistan—made a unique visit to Capitol Hill last week.
The event, coordinated by the American Humane Association (AHA), honored the four-legged veterans for their service and highlighted the need to help more war dogs find their way back to the U.S. and into the homes of their former handlers.
Military dogs, whether contracted by private companies or owned by the Department of Defense, serve side by side with members of the Armed Forces. Some are placed on the front lines, where they sniff out improvised explosive devices, weapons caches, and enemy locations. According to AHA, each dog is responsible for saving between 150 and 200 lives, on average.
Under the National Defense Authorization Act, military dogs may be retired overseas. “If they’re retired overseas, they become civilians, and they’re no longer afforded the free military transport home,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, AHA’s president and CEO. “So if their soldier is already off of his active duty and they want to adopt their dog, unfortunately the system allows the dog to be retired overseas and adopted into the local community.”
Recently, AHA has been working to fund the transport home and reunification of military dogs and their former handlers. Eight dogs have already returned home, and another four will arrive in the fall, said Ganzert. And the group advocates a change in policy so that the dogs are not retired from military service until they return to U.S. soil.
“Then once they’re home, allow their soldiers the opportunity to adopt them right away,” she said. “These dogs, they know their battle buddy well, and I think that’s pretty much what everyone saw on the Hill, the power of these dogs on these soldiers’ lives.”
AHA also says the dogs should receive medical coverage, as does any other veteran returning from active duty.
“These are dogs that have seen and been through a lot, and their bodies have been exposed to a lot more than the average dog in our own backyards,” Ganzert said. “They have exceptional medical care while serving—kudos to the military, they treat these dogs very, very well—but when they’re retired, there’s a cost, and I don’t want those veterans who’ve agreed to adopt their dogs to have to absorb it.”
AHA has already seen progress advocating for military dogs in their work with the Air Force, which pledged to stop referring to the dogs as equipment.
“We’re doing this work in association with the military, in association with the Department of Defense, in association with members of Congress, and, most importantly, in association with the working dogs and their handlers,” said Ganzert. “It’s all about making this systemic fix happen, but it wouldn’t be possible without being able to work collaboratively and work together to get the right things done. And I think we’ve been pretty successful in that regard.”
(photo by Vithaya Phongsavan/American Humane Association)