I am thrilled to inform you that the President has signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which means that now ALL military working dogs will be guaranteed a ride home and retirement on U.S. soil!
And best of all, the people who know these dogs better than anyone — their handlers who served bravely alongside them on the hot desert sands of Iraq and Afghanistan and on bases around the world — will be given the first rights at adopting these canine heroes.
As you know, this has not been an easy journey for our brave warrior dogs. So today, I want to reflect on how we got to where we are today.
History of dogs in the military
Mankind has always had a special relationship with dogs. For thousands of years, dogs have comforted us, protected us, and given us their unconditional love. Time and time again through the ages they have proven why they are considered our best friends. And nowhere is that remarkable bond between dogs and people been more critical than on the battlefield.
The military has been relying on these four-footed comrades-in-arms since the beginning of organized warfare:
- The Romans were known to have used dogs in their military campaigns to disrupt and overwhelm the enemy.
- During the Civil War, dogs were reported to have been used to guard soldiers.
- In the course of World War I, thousands of dogs were used as couriers.
- During the Second World War, the Marines used dogs in the Pacific archipelago to locate enemy positions.
- In Vietnam some 4,000 dogs were used to lead jungle patrols, saving many lives.
- More recently, some 2,500 military working dogs and contract working dogs worked side by side with our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- And most famously, a Belgian Malinois war dog named Cairo was an integral part of the Navy Seals team that helped kill America’s arch-nemesis Osama Bin Laden during a daring raid in 2011.
The need to bring home all military dogs
Today, military dogs are more important than ever in keeping our service men and women safe. With noses that are 100,000 times more sensitive than humans’ giving them an unparalleled ability to sniff out and detect weapons caches and Improvised Explosive Devices, it is estimated that each military working dog saves the lives of between 150-200 service members.
When not keeping our warriors out of harm’s way, the dogs provide our troops with companionship and an invaluable sense of normalcy and home under almost unimaginable circumstances. Clearly a war dog is a soldier’s best friend. Faced daily with life or death situations, the bond between these dogs and those who work with them is nearly unbreakable.
Yet when our human warriors end their tours of duty and return home, their faithful military dogs do not always follow. While the military generally does a good job of bringing back these animals and most military dogs do make it home, too many do not. If a Military War Dog is retired in a non-combat zone overseas, then the military will not provide transportation home.
The reason for this is that once the dog is retired, they are no longer considered military dogs, and therefore, they are not legally allowed to be transported on military aircraft.
History of legislation
Dogs used in World War II were brought home following their service and returned to their owners or newly adopted ones. The Vietnam War changed everything, with dogs classified as expendable equipment. Many of the dogs in that war were either euthanized or left behind by the U.S. military.
That all changed in 2000 when President Clinton signed into law a bill known as “Robby’s Law,” which enabled these warrior dogs to be adopted once their service to our country was over. But the fight was still not over because not all dogs were given a ride home at the end of their service.
The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized the transfer of a retiring military working dog if no suitable adopter was available at the military facility where the dog is located, but one simple word prevented this from being a certainty. The bill said that the dog “may transfer,” rather than they “shall transfer.”
In 2014, American Humane Association paid for the transportation home of 21 military dogs, helping to reunite them with their former handlers.
In July of last year, American Humane Association traveled to Capitol Hill to address with members of Congress and the national media about the importance of bringing home all military dogs and giving their human handlers the first right at adoption.
This past spring, American Humane Association returned to Capitol Hill with two reunited K-9 Battle Buddy teams – Marines Lance Corporal Jeff DeYoung and MWD Cena and Army Specialist Brent Grommet and MWD Matty – to meet with members of Congress, Senators, and their staff about adding the all-important word “shall” to the 2016 NDAA.
Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced this language supported by American Humane Association into the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, and both were passed with bipartisan support in early summer. Following a lengthy period in which the 2016 NDAA went through committee, it was passed again by the House and Senate in early October 2015. The bill was vetoed by President Obama, however, for budget reason having nothing to do with the military dog language.
Both the House and Senate passed a new version of the 2016 NDAA in early November with a reduction in spending, but the language for military dogs still remained. And finally, President Obama signed it into law.
There are so many people to thank for making this possible. Thank you to the President and all the members of Congress who we met with and who supported this vital breakthrough, including military dog advocates Congressman LoBiondo and Senator McCaskill.
And thank you for all you did to make this possible. Our supporters sent letters to their representatives on the Hill to tell them to vote for this important bill. You supported our efforts last year as we reunited those 21 brave K-9 Battle Buddy teams. You were there for us every step of the way.
Mostly importantly, we thank these brave heroes for serving our country, and we are grateful that every one will finally get the retirement they deserve with those who care for them most.