The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter

Summer 2013 Issue
Honoring and Caring for Our Noble Canine Soldiers

By E.M Fay
Humans have involved horses, dogs, and even elephants in their land wars for millennia, and in recent times have made use of dolphins and sea lions to detect underwater mines. 

These non-human animals are at risk of injury and death while performing their duties, even though they had no part in the commencement of hostilities, and, presumably, little interest in the outcome. War horses and elephants carried riders to their mutual doom, and dogs who accompany soldiers on perilous missions are often killed right along with their men.

An intimate comradeship often develops between dogs and the soldiers they train and serve with; no doubt part of the age-old symbiotic connection between our two species.

Frequently, around patriotic holidays, heart-warming stories appear about this wonderful relationship between soldiers and "Man's best friend." The courage of military service dogs is lauded, and thrilling tales are told of a service dog's derring-do and sacrifice for a beloved master. 

military dog heroes

One common scenario is that of the devoted dog refusing to leave his fallen human colleague.  These touching vignettes highlight the traditional man-dog bond that we like to think is the norm.

In a perfect world, all dogs would live pleasant lives with loving families, since most breeds are domesticated beyond the capacity for living wild.  However, if we continue to exploit dogs' intelligence, loyalty, love of activity and routine, and sheer physical abilities in a combat setting, the least we can do is honor their contributions enough to give them the best of care if they are injured, and a comfortable "retirement" afterwards.  Sadly, this is not always the case. 

We looked into a report that the U. S. Department of Defense classifies military working dogs (MWDs) as "equipment."  That designation, when they are in service abroad, can make it difficult to bring them home. Worse, being considered a thing instead of a living being, can block them from government-paid veterinary care.

A bill introduced in the House last Spring, HR 4103, seems to substantiate the claim that dogs are considered equipment.  Part of the bill summary states:  "Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act - Directs the Secretary of Defense (DoD) to classify military working dogs as canine members of the Armed Forces. Requires that such dogs no longer be classified as equipment."

We asked Captain Nick Plante, USAF, Secretary of the Air Force, Public Affairs Office, about this.  Captain Plante asserted, "While Military Working Dogs (MWDs) are requisitioned through the DoD supply system, they are not referred to or treated as equipment."

military dog heroes

Further, "Each MWD is tracked by their given name and a tattoo number, much like our Service members are identified by their given name and social security number.  National Stock Numbers are also assigned to identify the specific capability (i.e., explosive detection, drug detection, etc.) needed at an installation, much like we assign specialty codes or special experience identifiers for military personnel in the Air Force."

This sounds as if dogs are treated similarly to their human counterparts.  So we asked what the DoD's position is on the proposed legislation.

The official reply: "As the MWD Executive Agent, AF/A7S recognizes the significant contributions of MWDs; however, we oppose the proposed legislation.  

"The proposed legislation would elevate the status of MWDs to canine service members, propose canine rights to transportation for adoption and health care after adoption, and complicate supply channels for requisitioning replacement MWDs. There are provisions in existing statutes for the retirement from service and adoption of MWDs.  Public perception conveyed to Congress that retired MWDs need assistance on medical care can be accomplished by private non-profit entities without involvement by the DoD."  "Additionally, the cost associated with the proposed requirement to contract with private organizations for veterinary health care after MWD retirement is neither prudent, nor necessary, in the present fiscal environment."      

The phrase, "elevate the status of MWDs to canine service members," implies that dogs need elevating from some current, inferior status.  Are they equipment or are they
service members?   And surely, the "present fiscal environment" should have no bearing on the treatment of any veteran.                       

Comparing the summary of HR Bill 4103 with the wording of the DoD's opposition to it, there seems  little real conflict between the two.

HR 4103 summary:

Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act - Directs the Secretary of Defense (DoD) to classify military working dogs as canine members of the Armed Forces. Requires that such dogs no longer be classified as equipment.

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 transferred to the 341st Training Squadron or to another location for adoption. Authorizes the acceptance of the donation of frequent traveler miles to facilitate the adoption of a dog.

Directs the Secretary to establish and maintain a system to provide for the lifetime veterinary care of retired, adopted dogs. Requires the Secretary to administer the system under a contract awarded by the Secretary to a private non-profit entity. Requires such care to meet standards that the Secretary shall establish and periodically update. Requires any costs of the operation and administration of the system and of any veterinary care provided under the system to be covered by such combination of the following as the Secretary and the non-profit entity jointly consider appropriate: (1) contributions from the non-profit entity, (2) payments for such care by owners or guardians of such dogs, and (3) other appropriate non-federal sources of funds. Prohibits the use of federal funds to provide care or operate the system, except for funds used to establish or administer the system, establish standards of care, or prescribe related regulations.

Directs the Secretary to create a decoration or other appropriate recognition to recognize dogs that are killed in action or perform an exceptionally meritorious or courageous act in service to the United States.

This seems a responsible way to deal with our canine military personnel, so it's a shame the bill is currently in limbo.

Regarding the adoption of retired military dogs, we're happy to learn that their current companion is given the first option to adopt.  Capt. Plante: "Normally, when an MWD is retired it is first offered for adoption to either the current or previous handler, then to other handlers in the assigned kennel prior to being offered to others on the installation where the dog is assigned."

military dog heroes
Holland Military Working Dog Hospital

Still, given the abstruse wording of the DoD response, we think the welfare of our hard-working military dogs ought to be permanently ensured by legislation.  We recommend that people contact their federal representatives, urging them to pass the bill.  Just as with human veterans who give so much on behalf of their country, our canine veterans deserve equal respect and compassion.

Go on to Brutalizing Wildlife is Fine
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