Dogs have been used in war efforts for a long time. Of course, there are many ethical issues centering on their use and people disagree whether they should be used in the first place. However, just about everyone agrees that when they come home from various battlefields they should be treated with respect and dignity and everything that can possibly be done to re-home them with loving humans and families should be done (for more discussion please see “War Dogs: Would You Send Your Dog to Fight Our Battles?” for an interview with Rebecca Frankel, author of War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love).
Source: DoD, Public Affairs
Despite the amazing and life-threatening work these dogs have done, it may come as a surprise that they are not necessarily treated well when they return home. An essay on this topic by Laura Goldman called “US Army Promises to Stop Mistreating Veteran Bomb-Sniffing Dogs” makes for rather disturbing reading, but there is hope for dogs who have worked in the Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) program.1 Her piece is available online so here are a few snippets to whet your appetite for more.
Ms. Goldman begins, “Imagine the outrage if war heroes returning to the United States were locked up for months in cells with little water, food or human interaction. Yet that’s exactly what happened to many four-legged veterans who saved the lives of countless troops.” She goes on to describe how many of these dogs were severely mistreated when they returned home. Some were left in kennels for as long as 11 months, some were euthanized, some were given to homes with no screening of the humans who offered to take them in, and some dogs who had never been around young children were placed in homes with kids. In addition, 13 dogs were adopted by a private company and subsequently abandoned at a Virginia kennel. One of the abandoned dogs was reunited with his human teammate.
Many of the details of how the dogs were treated and mistreated can be read in a report called “The Army’s Tactical Explosive Detection Dog Disposition Process from 2011 to 2014” that was released on March 1, 2018 by the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Inspector General (IG). The IG provides independent oversight of the DoD’s programs and operations. It turns out that the United States army agrees with the results of this report about how dogs were mishandled. Ms. Goldman notes, “Army spokesman Maj. Christopher Ophardt said in a statement to Reuters the Army ‘concurs’ with the report’s findings and is complying with its recommendations.” And, the report itself concludes, “The Army did not use the DoD Working Dog Management System, as required by the Joint Military Working Dog Instruction and Army Regulation 190-12. As a result, the Army’s Office of the Provost Marshal General did not ensure accuracy in the tracking of some TEDDs through final disposition.”
I was thrilled to read Major Ophardt’s admission, and that finally there is some hope on the horizon for these dogs who work tirelessly and selflessly in situations where they could be harmed and killed. The people responsible for how these smart and sentient dogs are treated when they leave war zones need to have much better plans for how they will be treated when they’re done serving and also develop and use much better screening of potential homes. The dogs care about how they’re treated, and it’s a double-cross to use them and then not give them the best care possible when they’re finished doing the work for which they’ve been highly trained.
Surely, these canine heroes deserve much better treatment than they have received, and perhaps they will be replaced with nonhuman gadgets in the future. For now at least, there’s some good news and it’s important that people pay careful attention to how the new regulations are applied. There’s been far too much abuse of these canine soldiers.
1“The TEDD program was launched in 2010 to train IED detection dogs for use in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The trained dogs were urgently needed at the time due to the increasing use of IEDs in combat. (Sadly, the Pentagon believes live dogs are superior to high-tech gadgets for detecting bombs.)”