In most communities in the United States, abandoning a dog — or any domestic animal –is a crime. So is failing to provide proper veterinary care for any animal having been in your possession. Animals are considered property by law, but acknowledged to be living beings in that the owner is penalized and prosecuted if proper care is not provided. But when it comes to Military Working Dogs, this is not the case.
The 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act classified military working dogs as “equipment to be discarded when worn out.” In 1997, President Bill Clinton amended this act to permit federal dog handlers to adopt their dog retirees. But worn-out equipment is not entitled to be flown home or cared for during it’s remaining years of life. These dogs who undergo rigorous training, who are assigned tours of duty alongside our sons and daughters, who serve beside their handlers and fellow soldiers in the same conditions, who meet the same dangers as the humans in their outfit, may be as casually discarded as a flat tire.
I knew that thousands of dogs had been left behind when we pulled out of Vietnam and was very saddened by what I thought was a dark period in our military history. Only recently did I discover that in the 21st century, MWDs are still considered “equipment.” This is not the fault of any soldier who has served with these dogs. They know the value of a Military Working Dog! Many of them owe their lives to the almost 3,000 dogs currently serving beside our troops. All of them know a fellow soldier who DOES owe his life to one. Many knew a dog that gave his or her life in defense of the unit.
The US House of Representatives passed H. 4103, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, which states that Military working dogs should be classified as “canine member of the armed forces.” It also authorized for transportation back to the states to facilitate adoption and directs the Secretary of Defense to establish and maintain a system to provide for the lifetime care of retired dogs.
Then it went to the Senate where it was piggybacked on another bill and watered down. Spearheaded by John McCain, the reclassification requirement was totally stripped. The mandate to fly dogs home changed to they “MAY transfer the dog.” The Secretary of Defense’s mandate was changed to “MAY establish and maintain a system…No funds may be privided by the Federal Government for this purpose.” How nice; they have permission to care for the dogs, still classified as equipment, maybe even fly them home, but no funds to do so. This is the Bill that President Obama has signed into law.
I do not blame the President. I do blame Senator McCain. I don’t know his reasons. He declined to comment to the sources I checked. I cannot imagine how treating military veterans, who have up to $75,000 worth of training, who have served their country, who have saved lives in their units and who because of that service protected us here in the United States can be LEGALLY treated with less compassion and care than any abandoned beast in our backyards.