The theory of "leave no man behind" governs the American military approach to combat. But until recently, that same theory didn't apply to the military dogs that serve so valiantly alongside their human counterparts.
When human military forces retire, they always come home. But until recently, military policies resulted in many military dogs being retired overseas. Although their service was over, dogs weren't granted transportation home to retire in the United States.
The problem was, when military dogs were retired overseas, they became "civilians," so they were no longer eligible for military transportation back home. Some dogs were retired to kennels, while others were adopted by local people or military staff living abroad.
But there was another problem with the way that military dogs were retired: They were often separated from their handlers in the process. Though handlers were allowed to adopt their canine partners, if the dog was overseas, the handler needed to cover the cost of shipping the dog home.
A retirement with such an unsure future is hardly fitting for dogs that served much of their lives in the military. So, the American Humane Association contributed up to $6,000 per dog to bring our retired warriors home.
But charity can only go so far in returning these dogs home. So Representative Frank LoBiondo and Senator Claire McCaskill introduced a new law. The law would ensure that all military dogs would be guaranteed a ride home on a military aircraft. Additionally, the dogs' handlers would be allowed to adopt them before anyone else.
This new law was incorporated into the 2016 Defense Department Budget bill. President Obama signed the bill on the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, but he changed the way that military dog retirement would be handled.
When the bill was passed, the Humane Association celebrated. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the Humane Association, said, “This is a momentous day for all veterans. 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.”
Military dogs working overseas no longer face the risk of being retired and left there. They are guaranteed trips home, and the American Humane Association doesn't have to worry about financing transportation for the dogs.
Military dogs retire for many different reasons, including age or health issues. However, many dogs can go on to live wonderful lives with their adoptive families. Handlers and dogs form such a strong relationship during service that most handlers try to adopt their dogs once they are retired.
When dogs are made available for adoption by civilians, potential homes are carefully screened. Military dogs often have behavioral issues or PTSD because of the work that they've done, so a home needs to be the right fit for a dog.