This Memorial Day weekend, let’s not forget America’s courageous military dogs!

Deb wrote this piece for us last year. We re-post it today for all our brave military canines who are working to keep Americans safe and for the beloved “vets” who made the ultimate sacrifice!                –  R. Tirella

US Military’s war dogs must be reclassified! They are not “equipment” to be discarded!

By Deb Young

Dogs have been an important part of the U.S. Military for decades.

In fact, the only member of the team that raided the Osama bin Laden compound we know anything about is a war dog, named Cairo.

Canines have been used in the U.S. Military ever since the Revolutionary war. These dogs saved lives, boosted morale and have contributed greatly to our fighting forces.

War dogs began their military service working as pack animals. During World War 1, their major task was killing rats in the trenches. One of the most famous WW 1 military dogs was Sergeant Stubby . He was the first war dog to be used on the Western Front, and during his 18 months of service, this plucky, unknown stray dog took part in seventeen battles.

Stubby, was a bull terrier mix, as a small stray he was smuggled aboard a troop ship in France. He served in battles at Chateau Thierry,the Marne and the Meuse-Argonne with the men of the 102nd Infantry.

During his career, Sgt. Stubby comforted wounded soldiers, saved a regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks and even captured a German spy; literally by the seat of his pants.

One night in February 1918, he roused a sleeping sergeant to warn of a gas attack, giving the soldiers time to don masks and thus saving them. Gen John “Black Jack” Pershing awarded him a special Gold Medal. He was given a Life Membership in the American Legion and the Red Cross. He met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Collidge. He died of old age in 1926. Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog in U.S. history.

Throughout World War II, over 10,000 highly trained military dogs were deployed to serve as sentry canines, scouts, mine detectors and messengers. Many of these dogs were family pets who had been “volunteered” by their owners to serve their country. Today, there are an estimated 2,700 military dogs serving alongside U.S. military personnel. About 600 military dogs have been deployed to Afghanistan and Kuwait. One of their most significant imperatives is sniffing out bombs.

25 Marine War Dogs gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944 and many more served as sentries, messengers, and scouts, exploring caves, detecting mines and booby traps, and bringing vital information across the battlefield.

Nearly 4000 dogs served in Vietnam and saved up to 10,000 American servicemen through their scouting and sentry duties. When withdrawing from Vietnam in 1973, the military classified the dogs as surplus equipment to be left behind during evacuation. Many dogs were left with South Vietnamese allies who were afraid of the dogs and didn’t know how to handle them. Many of the dogs were euthanized, and many more perished at the hands of their inexperienced South Vietnamese handlers. Only a handful of Vietnam war dogs made it back to the United States. Many handlers and trainers who worked with these dogs were traumatized by having to leave their faithful companions behind, stating that the dogs saved their lives and often did more work than they did.

Virtually all breeds of dogs have been used at one time or another. But later, with more experience, the list was narrowed to five: German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies (short coat) and Giant Schnauzers. The vast majority of U.S. military working dogs in recent times are German and Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois, breeds chosen because they are very aggressive, smart, loyal and athletic. For specialized roles, detector dogs in particular, other breeds are used. Retrievers (Labrador, Golden or Chesapeake Bay) are the preferred breeds for One Odor Detector dogs.

Military canines complete a 120-day program featuring positive rewards, (with a preferred rubber toy or ball rather than food). It is designed to teach obedience and how to “sniff out” dangerous substances. These dogs become trusted partners and companions to the fellow soldiers with whom they are assigned.Not only can these military dogs smell up to two miles away, they are trained to rappel down buildings, jump out of airplanes and swim long

Although Military dogs are living, breathing animals, the defense department classifies them as “equipment. ”distances.

Approximately 300 dogs a year are retired. But what future do these loyal and courageous canines face once their tour of duty has been completed?

According to the Washington times these canines have been classified by the military as “equipment”. Upon their retirement they fall into the “surplus equipment” category – much like any obsolete military appliance, therefore are not returned back to the United States. While these dogs may not be euthanized, (which was one of the options facing these hero dogs after the war in Vietnam was over), the United States is not willing to defray the cost of the dogs’ return home. Instead they are given away, put up for adoption or even abandoned much the in the same way as a broken Hum-Vee or crashed helicopter.

Being classified as equipment means:

  1. Retired Military Working Dogs are stranded at their final duty station.
  2. Military Working Dogs receive no medical benefits after retirement.
  3. Military Working Dogs receive no recognition for their faithful service.

But it’s the wording of this classification that has bothered dog-lovers across the country, not to mention veterans who have served with these marvelous animals.

And, of course, in our budget conscious environment today, there’s always the cost factor.

However, it is estimated that the dogs could be shipped back to the United States on cargo planes at little cost to taxpayers.

If anyone needed evidence of the frontline role played by dogs in war these days, here is the latest: the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts.

Somewhere, right now, a military working dog is searching for roadside bombs and protecting our troops. They’re on the front lines, facing explosions and gunfire- a memory that haunts some of these dogs for the rest of their lives.

By some estimates, more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD.

Many War Dogs help veterans better manage the invisible and lifelong challenges of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury (PTSD/TBI) by being paired back with their human soldier counterparts . The dog becomes the veteran’s partner in the struggle to achieve confidence, reconnect with their loved ones, and resume normal activities in their communities. In a sense becoming each others life line!

Recently S.2134, (The Canine Member of the Armed Forces Act) was passed by the US House and Senate to honor military dogs, declaring them as Military Working dogs, (of all breeds) and will no longer be classified as “Military Equipment.” Instead they would be returned to Lackland Air Force Base with the classification of “Military Veterans” and in recognition of their service; United States heroes. They will be evaluated, retrained or if necessary, re-homed.

The Canine Member of the Armed Forces Act was amended into and passed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. But due to political snafus, the bill’s title was changed to “”Military Working Dog Matters” and their reclassification was deleted to keep them in the “military equipment” category.

This act if passed would include the following.
Section 1 – Short Title
• Designates this act as the “Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act.”

Section 2 Findings

• Explains that military working dogs have served honorably in the armed forces and other government agencies in ways that go far beyond their current designation as “equipment.”
• Notes that military working dogs have prevented injuries and saved lives.

Section 3 – Retirement and Adoption of Military Working Dogs
• Reclassifies military working dogs as canine members of the armed forces and states that they shall not be classified as equipment.
• Authorizes the Secretary of the appropriate military department to transport retiring military working dogs to the 341st Training Squadron or another suitable location for adoption, if no suitable adoption is available at the military facility where the dog is located.
• Authorizes the Secretary of Defense to accept travel benefits such as frequent traveler miles to facilitate the adoption of a retired military working dog.

Section 4 – Veterinary Care for Retired Military Working Dogs
• Directs the Secretary of Defense to establish and maintain a system to provide for the veterinary care of retired military working dogs beginning on the date on which the dog is adopted.
• Directs the Secretary to operate the system through a contract awarded to a private non-profit entity. The non-profit entity would be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the system; no federal funds would be used to operate the system.
• Directs the Secretary to consult with the board of directors of the non-profit to establish standards of veterinary care, including the types of care to be provided, the entities qualified to provide the care, and the facilities in which the care may be provided.

Section 5 – Recognition of Service of Military Working Dogs
• Directs the Secretary of Defense to create a decoration or other appropriate recognition to recognize military working dogs that are killed in action or perform an exceptionally meritorious or courageous act in service to the United States.

Public input is needed to help get the bill passed and signed by the President. It will restore the bill’s original intent; removing their classification as “equipment”, changing it to “military veterans”.

Our courageous military dogs, who are living and breathing animals deserve so much better than being classified as “equipment.”