President Obama Signs Law Making It Easier for Military Dogs Overseas to Retire With Their Handlers Back Home
Nestled within this year’s National Defense Authorization Act is a provision that ensures a happy homecoming worth wagging your tail over.
Image via (cc) Flickr DVIDSHUB
Odds are you’ve seen the videos: Soldiers returning home from tours of duty overseas, being greeted by exuberant pet dogs expressing months’—if not years’—worth of pent-up affection.
But what of the other side of that equation? What happens to the military working dogs once their terms of service are over, and they’re allowed to “retire” from their time in the armed services?
Exact numbers vary, but it’s estimated there are anywhere from 1,700 to 2,300 military working dogs employed by the Department of Defense. These dogs’ assignment include everything from guard duty to actively sniffing out explosives using their highly developed (and extensively trained) sense of smell. According to the American Humane Association, each military working dogs is responsible for saving between 150 and 200 human lives over the course of its career in the armed services.
Image via (cc) Flickr user soldiersmediacenter
In any given year, several hundred of these dogs retire from military service, but unlike their human compatriots, retirement doesn’t necessarily mean a trip back to the United States; military working dogs can be retired from their service while still overseas, leaving them ineligible for a government-paid return trip home. This often means they’re left in kennels in the country in which they most recently served. Since 2000, the military’s “Robby’s Law” has allowed, and regulated, the adoption of these retired dogs, often by their military handlers. But doing so can be an onerous process that involves the commercial shipping of the dog in question from its country of service to the United States—at the (significant) expense of the person doing the adopting.
That changed last month when President Obama signed into law the latest iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act. A provision introduced by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo, and supported by the AHA, mandates that retired military working dogs be provided DOD transportation back to the United States after their overseas service.
What’s more, upon the dogs’’ return stateside, their former handlers will be given first dibs at adoption. It’s a move that makes it dramatically easier for canine and human veterans to reunite upon returning home.
“This is a momentous day for all veterans,” said AHA president and CEO Robin Ganzert in a statement after the Authorization Act was signed into law. “We applaud Congress and the president for passing and signing the bill with the language we provided and stepping up for our brave K-9 Battle Buddy teams who have benefited and will continue to benefit from their service together.”