The American Humane Association (AHA) just announced that, in passing the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the House and Senate have agreed that our nation's heroic military working dogs will be returned to U.S. soil upon their retirement from service. This change in policy is long overdue. Over the past year, the AHA has privately funded the transportation home of 21 military working dogs and contract working dogs and helped reunite them with their former handlers.
The Bill was introduced in the House by Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Senate by Claire McCaskill (D-MO). According to the language of the bill, upon their retirement, first rights of adoption go to former handlers and their families. It is estimated that each of our nation's military working dogs has saved the lives of between 150-200 servicemen and women in the course of their career.
According to the AHA, as it stands now, the NDAA only includes this provision for military working dogs. The AHA is still pushing to include contract working dogs in upcoming discussions. So many of our four-footed veterans are left behind on foreign soil, and never again see their human Battle Buddies with whom they went through so much. The U.S. Air Force worked hard over the years to bring back many war dogs as well. In 2014, the AHA and the US War Dogs Association announced an arrangement with New Jersey's Red Bank Veterinary Hospital to provide free specialized vet care to all retired canine veterans. Thousands of dogs have served in American military conflicts since World War 1, most recently in Afghanistan, detecting roadside bombs and mines meant for U.S. troops.
AHA president and CEO, Dr. Robin Ganzert, said, "Today, America's military working dogs are one step closer to being guaranteed treatment as the heroes they are. Thank you to Congressman LoBiondo, Senator McCaskill and all our friends in the House and Senate who are championing the cause of military dogs and their handlers. We now urge the President to sign this long-overdue measure into law. We believe ALL our veterans – two-footed and four-footed – should come back to a hero's welcome, a loving, forever home, and the happy, healthy, and dignified retirement they so deserve after a lifetime of service to their country. That hope is now within sight of becoming a reality."
For many years, other animal welfare organizations have been involved in flying home local animals befriended by members of the U.S. military based all over the world. These animals have become their companions, their source of comfort, and are forced to leave them behind when their deployment is over. Because they are not military working dogs, private funds are usually raised to get these animals back to the loving arms of their human families. The SPCA's Operation Baghdad Pups (OBP) is now worldwide. Founded in 2008, to date, they have rescued over 550 animals from multiple countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. With their global expansion, they now rescue animals anywhere in the world for members of all military branches. If you want to help their cause contact them here.
The SPCA also has a second branch, called Operation Military Pets. The mission of this group is to keep military families together by providing for pet relocation costs. If you're interested in this operation, here's the link for more information.
Dogs on Deployment is another national non-profit that provides a network for military members to find volunteers willing to board their pets while they are deployed or have other service commitments. They promote responsible, life-long pet ownership in the military community in a variety of ways. If you'd like to get involved with DoD, please click here!
There are a number of other groups that work in keeping military animals and their families together, both in the U.S. and overseas, including the U.S. Wardogs Association. Please click here for a list of those additional resources. If there are any organizations that you know of that are not mentioned here, please include them in your comments below.
President Obama, we await your signature, with paws crossed that it happens quickly.