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Op/Ed: The Life of a Military Dog as Excess Equipment

Anthony Russo of Westhampton Beach said Americans have a moral responsibility to care for military service animals.

Editor's Note: The following opinion piece was submitted by Anthony Russo, a Westhampton Beach resident, who is currently a sophomore at Duke University.

For one member of the Navy SEAL team that executed one of the world’s most infamous men, life after duty may not be so glamorous after all. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois dog, was an integral part in Operation Neptune Spear, the operation in which Osama Bin Laden was executed. Unfortunately for Cairo, as well as the other hundreds of dogs that heroically serve our country, many may not live to see a return trip home.

Despite the fact that military working dogs contribute to war as living beings, due to a loophole, they are classified under the broad category of ‘equipment.’ As a consequence, dogs that are already overseas and cannot serve due to either age or injury are deemed as excess equipment, and sadly, are not entitled to a return trip home. Although adoption is still a possibility, it requires private funding for the dog’s journey home, which can cost upwards of thousands of dollars.

The U.S military have used military working dogs as early as the Revolutionary War. Today there are roughly 3000 enlisted dogs with 600 of those dogs serving in war zones overseas. In today’s era of warfare, dogs have proved their worth in using their heightened sense of smell in locating and detecting hidden explosives and IED’s (improvised explosive device). Dogs also search out for hurt victims in disasters, and preform tasks that most people would decline. Dogs aid to our war efforts in a plethora of ways with their intelligence and loyalty, yet their treatment by the military has been, and continues to be substandard. This was most notably demonstrated at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, when approximately 5,000 military working dogs served. Only about 200 canine soldiers were redeployed, while the remaining approximately 4000 were either euthanized or left behind to an ally army due to their standing as excess equipment. However, after much public outcry in 2000, then President Clinton signed Robby’s law, giving military dogs a possibility to be adopted if they could find a suitable owner willing to pay for the transportation. Although a small victory, this did not solve the greater problem of proper retirement for these military dogs.

Recently, North Carolina Representative Walter Jones has been diligently working to offer a solution. Through a proposed bill, H.R 4103, Jones, the sponsor of the bill, has proposed to reclassify military dogs as ‘Canine Members of the Armed Services.’ In this new classification, transportation home would become guaranteed for all dogs serving overseas, while a non-profit organization would be created to provide lifetime veterinary care. Deserving dogs would also be recognized for their outstanding duty.

As a proud owner of a rescue animal, I know all too well how powerful the relationship with a dog can be. After our family rescued our dog Pepsie from a local shelter in the same year Robby’s Law was enacted, we took in more than a pet; we adopted a new member into our family. After sharing 12 great years with Pepsie, I can really appreciate the strong bond between man and canine. As Pepsie was given a second chance on life, so to should these military dogs. Although Pepsie might not have the spunk in her step that she had 12 years ago, she continues to give our family an immeasurable amount of happiness.

It should be the moral responsibility that we all have towards these brave service animals and not the sheer economics in deciding the outcome of this bill. For these reasons, I implore every one of you to take action in spreading the word, either by speaking to your neighbors or writing to your congressman or congresswoman. I truly believe that as more people are made aware of the current standing of military dogs, more people will open up their hearts and homes to these canine veterans. If we are bold enough to integrate canines into the military, shouldn’t we also be compassionate enough to reward these valiant heroes by affording them the same love and care that we do our own pets? In the midst of a decade long war, it is important for us as a society to not forget that our use of military dogs is a privilege, not a right. We owe these dogs that have given us so much the comforts for them to enjoy their lives up until their last natural breath.

If you have an opinion piece that you would like to have published, e-mail it to Erica.Jackson@Patch.com. 

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