While European armies, and particularly the Germans, had well-established acquisition, breeding, and training programs for military dogs, the US government improvised an unlikely sort of ad hoc Shirley Temple movie approach.
Buck up, everybody, and send us your best pal for the army so we can whip those gosh-awful Nazis and contain the yellow menace!
Americans did, shipping off their family dogs to military training centers, where those found suitable were developed into sentry, scout, messenger, sled and ambulance (battlefield SAR) dogs.
When the hostilities were over, the dogs who had survived the war came home.
Literally home. If their original families wanted them back, that's where they went. Others returned to civilian life with their former handlers -- men (no women in those jobs back then) who also benefited from the GI Bill, preferential hiring, and housing policies that were designed to acknowledge the value of what these citizens had done for their country.
By the Vietnam era, things were different.
The most haunted veterans I have ever met are the dog handlers. In the long list of betrayals, the one that slashed these men's emotional hamstrings was the one they were ordered to perpetrate: leaving their partners behind, or shooting them in their kennels. Damaged goods, not worth evacuating Surplus equipment, to be donated to the ARVN, or destroyed before the NVA could reach it. It.
Until twelve years ago, when a military working dog (MWD) reached the end of its usefulness, it was killed. Every dog, every time. Usually around age eight or ten, unless a dog had the bad luck to be injured or get sick.
(Euthanized, said the vets at Lackland. Killed, is the word.)
In 2000, after years of pressure on the Pentagon had failed to reform the policy of executing military working dogs for the crime of growing old, an act of Congress, signed by Bill Clinton, flew right over the generals' heads. Military working dogs were to be made available for adoption, mainly by their former handlers, when their active careers were over. The machinery of betrayal had a great spanner thrown into its cogs, and that arc of history bent a little more acutely towards justice.
But we're not done here.*
H.R. 4103 / S. 2134, introduced to the US House by Republican Walter Jones (NC) and to the Senate by Democrat Richard Blumenthal (CT) would do four things for the canine draftees who serve this country in the military.
• It would provide for transport of retired MWDs so that they can be adopted. Currently, if a dog is retired while overseas, it falls on his adopter to come up with the lettuce to ship him back to the states. This can be cost-prohibitive. (Translation: The old dog is held hostage at taxpayer expense in a kennel in Germany while his former partner tries to scrape up thousands of dollars to get him home.)
• It would facilitate ongoing medical care for retired MWDs, without spending government funds, to relieve some of the burden from the dogs' adopters.
• It would establish decorations and honors for military working dogs, along the lines of the British Dickin medal. Of course, dogs don't care about medals. But their handlers and comrades do.
• Finally, this legislation would rid us of the shame and dishonor of the Pentagon-invented it.
Military working dogs would regain the dignity and regard that protected the canine draftees in the 1940's.
The Secretary of Defense shall classify military working dogs as canine members of the armed forces. Such dogs shall not be classified as equipment.Write or call your representative. (Contact information here.) Ask him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 4103, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act.
Write or call your two US Senators. (Contact information here.) Ask them both to co-sponsor S. 2134, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act.
* As my friend Rob has pointed out, we're not really done until we are managing our world in such a way that military working dogs are unnecessary. Point taken. But that arc seems to be getting longer.
This post cross-posted at Honest Dog.