All military working dogs deserve to come home after service. Too many people are left behind

Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., is president and CEO of American Humane. She is the author of “Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World”.

Last month, retired military working dog Bogi traveled more than 4,000 miles, from Iwakuni, Japan, to Honolulu, Hawaii, to reunite with his former handler, Marine Corps Sgt. Angela Cardon. It was a beautiful, heartwarming reunion, and one worth repeating each time an MWD retires from service.

Unfortunately, however, that is not the case, as bringing these K-9 veterans home after duty and ensuring they receive proper veterinary care can be a logistical nightmare too much to overcome.

On National K-9 Veterans Day (March 13), we honor the contributions of our four-legged military heroes and call on Congress to introduce and pass legislation providing transportation grants and the care of retired MWDs.

For more than eight decades, the MWDs have officially served alongside our brave men and women in uniform, protecting our sons and daughters from harm. While today’s MWDs no longer carry messages across combat territory, they provide an invaluable additional layer of security that modern technology cannot replicate. A dog’s nose has up to 300 million olfactory receptors, which are the biological tools used to detect airborne odors. Human noses, for comparison, have only 5-6 million. This means that a dog can detect a single drop of a dangerous substance in more than 20 Olympic swimming pools.

Each dog can save hundreds of lives. Consider MWD Troll, who received the U.S. Humane Lois Pope K-9 Medal of Courage on Capitol Hill in 2019. While deployed to Afghanistan, Troll logged 1,240 hours while conducting 89 combat missions. During a single raid on an insurgent compound, Troll detected three improvised explosive devices, providing security for 65 members of the coalition forces. There is no price to pay for this brave feat or others like it.

Just a few years ago, Congress recognized these irrefutable facts and enacted legislation to give brave K-9s the pensions they deserve. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 stipulates that handlers of these special veterans be granted first adoption rights upon retirement. This arrangement helps ensure that fellow combatants who serve together and protect each other can stay together. The law also stipulates that MWDs retire on US soil.

To make these laws a reality for retired MWDs and their handlers, American Humane and other non-governmental organizations are working to raise and allocate the necessary funds to bring these dogs to American soil and their give the pensions they so rightfully deserve. Flying K-9s from overseas military bases and foreign combat zones is no easy task. Many airlines and planes are not equipped to ensure the safest journey possible, and the cost can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

Congress should be applauded for taking the first step in allowing our MWDs to be adopted by their fellow combatants. It is time, however, for Congress to take the next brave step and allocate funds for their safe return and veterinary care so that our K-9 veterans can enjoy a healthy and happy retirement.

— The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own comment, please send your article to opinions@military.com for review.

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Bette C. Alvarado