The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
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.
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
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."
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
"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
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
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."
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.
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