So what happens to our highly trained military dogs at the end of their deployment in a foreign war-torn country?
Believe it or not, they are classified today as “military equipment” and theoretically may be left behind, much the in the same way as a broken Hum-Vee or crashed helicopter.
Theoretically. Fortunately, this is extremely rare, as there is an unwritten collaboration between the military and several private adoption agencies that help to bring the dogs back here to the States and match them up with qualified homes.
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.
With that in mind, Congressman Walter Jones, representing North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, introduced House Bill H.R.4103 (Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act) in February of 2012, allowing for a reclassification of military dogs from “equipment” to “canine members of the armed forces.” This bill additionally streamlines the process by which these American heroes are to be retired, adopted, and, most importantly, receive veterinary care, if necessary. All at no cost to the American taxpayer, thanks to a coalition of private agencies.
At the same time, Senator Richard Blumenthal, representing Connecticut, introduced S.2134, the Senate’s version of the bill.
And so, two bills costing the taxpayer nothing, and providing such well-deserved care and recognition to highly-trained members of our military, who have worked in extremely dangerous conditions and saved countless numbers of lives, make their way into the labyrinth of Congress.
And are promptly relegated to “sub-committees” where they languish for several months.
Fast forward to December 10th of 2012 and a posting on Facebook, originating on the German Shepherd Dog Club of America’s home page, begins to make the rounds. Beneath a picture of an American soldier, arms wrapped around a gorgeous German Shepherd, the text proclaims that a bill was passed by both the Senate and House on December 4th changing the military dogs’ classification and streamlining their adoption. It now waits on the president’s desk for his signature, it goes on to say.
The posting is an immediate success. With more than 21,000 shares and 60,000 “likes” it races through Facebook like a wildfire.
Which prompts many to start writing the President. Let’s get this bill signed, they say. But for others, myself included, it’s cause to stand and take notice.
Jeremy Vyska was another to wonder about this post. He, like myself, shared it on his Facebook page. What better news than hearing our canine military heroes were finally getting their due?
But, in checking a little further into it–well, okay, a LOT further into it–he noticed that both S.2134 and H.R.4103 were still mired in sub-committee. Neither had progressed anywhere. So…off our pages came the posting, but, more importantly, how is it this rumor started?
I’d made it that far with my investigation as well. But as we dug deeper, while I discovered his blog, he found the language of S.2134 had been added in a provision to a new Senate bill, S.3254, in sections 993 and 1049. Similarly, the House merged the text of H.R.4103 into section 361 of bill H.R.4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. (Jeremy’s blog can be found here)
Both of these bills have been scheduled for fiscal year 2013. With the focus currently on the fiscal cliff talks, combined with the inability of Congress to agree on the color of the sky, I decided it might be a good idea to write my Congressperson and both of California’s U.S. Senators in hopes of finding a status. Senator Dianne Feinstein was kind enough to reply, indicating that while neither [of the original bills] has come up for a vote, and she was not currently a co-sponsor, the support was broad for the bills and in that there was no cost to the taxpayers, passage was highly likely. The text of the sections in the new bills provided that: “military working dogs were to be reclassified as ‘canine members of the Armed Forces,’ there would be provisions for the transfer of retired dogs back to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, a system of veterinary care for retired dogs using non-federal funding would be established, and, finally, the Secretary of Defense is directed to establish a method of honoring military dogs for exceptional service.”
These dogs, working side by side with our fighting soldiers, have honorably served our country, often, as with those soldiers, paying the highest price. If you feel that not enough is being done to show gratitude for these heroes, you can join the ASPCA’s petition drive to get these bills signed and passed.
The APSCA petition website can be found here – Petition Drive
Additionally, feel free to write or email your Congressional representative and both U.S. Senators to express your support of these bills. There is a “contact” tab on most representatives’ home pages that allows for you to compose an email.