Our recent post about Rocky, a retired, disabled military working dog who was saved by our appeal, exposed a lot of misconceptions about the fate of military working dogs once they’re retired from service. Most of these animals are eligible for adoption and are placed into appropriate and loving homes.
Until recently, it was legal and common practice to abandon or put down military working dogs, known as MWDs, at the end of their useful service. Historically viewed as “surplus equipment,” they weren’t seen as having value beyond the military purpose for which they were trained. That mindset has changed dramatically, due in no small part to the public’s growing awareness of how these animals were treated after years of dutiful service. But it was one military war dog in particular – a dog named Robby – whose own fate changed that of other MWDs to come. Robby’s Law (H.R.5314) was signed by President Bill Clinton in November 2000 and required that all MWDs suitable for adoption be available for placement after their service. Unfortunately it was too late to save Robby, whose former handler fought valiantly to adopt him, to no avail.
Adopting a military working dog
It’s important to realize that these animals are unlike those you might have in your home or find in your local shelter. Not every retired MWD makes a great addition to the family. They’re highly trained – often for lethal purposes – and traits that are desirable in a military canine might make them unsuitable as a family pet. While fiercely loyal, they are often independent-minded and have different triggers, or trained responses, to various verbal or physical commands. In many cases, these dogs are not recommended for families with small children or other pets; some are deemed unsuitable for adoption for a variety of reasons, including extreme aggression.
Because of their unique temperaments and training, the military does not surrender these animals to shelters, rescues or sanctuaries for placement. All military working dog adoptions are handled through Joint Base San Antonio at Lackland, home of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Adoption Program. Through a careful process of evaluation and selection, experienced military personnel place an estimated 300 “excessed” MWDs each year.
If a dog is still serviceable upon its disposition – or official retirement – from the military, adoption priority is given to civilian law enforcement. For dogs who are no longer able to serve, handlers get priority and then the general public.
More information about MWDs and MWD adoption:
- Military Working Dog Adoptions
- The United States War Dogs Association
- Joint Base San Antonio at Lackland Working Dog Adoption FAQ
- Military Working Dog Memorial at Rancho Coastal Humane Society
- How War Dogs Work
So what happened to Rocky?
Many people were outraged at the prospect that Rocky would be put down: a 9-1/2 year old, disabled retired MWD and three tour Iraq war veteran. Most thought it callous that the military would simply end his life after he had given his in service, but that’s simply not the case.
Like many working canines, during his last few years of service Rocky had many different handlers. While the vast majority of war dogs are adopted by their handlers – more than 90% – Rocky no longer had a steady handler, no special bond with any one person. And while he was eligible to be adopted by other military personnel that might have wanted him, the unique challenges of his disability meant that Rocky couldn’t just go to any home – he needed someone who had ample time and patience to care for him. Since no suitable adopter was found and the kennels on base were ill equipped to address his specific disabilities, the military felt it had no choice but to slate him for euthanasia.
By chance, Pets for Patriots was contacted by a concerned animal lover. After verifying the story and basic facts, we posted Rocky’s plight and – well, the rest is history. A flood of applicants hit Lackland and Rocky was saved. We’re grateful that the veterinary team at Camp Pendleton shared Rocky’s story and gave us the opportunity to change his fate for the better.
Other four-legged heroes in need
We were in awe of the rapid and dramatic response to Rocky’s story, and are honored to have played a leading role in ensuring that he’ll live out his life in a loving home. And on the one hand while Rocky’s story was unique and exceptional, in other ways it’s a story we know all too well: an unwanted animal faces near-certain death if not adopted.
At Pets for Patriots, we champion these everyday heroes: the millions of last-chance dogs and cats that fill shelters, rescues, SPCAs and humane societies around the country, and that are killed to the tune of an estimated four million each year. That is simply unacceptable.
To help right this wrong, we work with our adoption partners to connect those animals most at risk of death with service and veteran members of the U.S. military. To help make these adoptions lasting and affordable, members of our program are given access to ongoing, discounted medical care through a network of veterinary partners, and we provide direct financial support on an annual basis towards the purchase of pet food and other basics.
If you were one of the many individuals who wanted to open your heart and home to Rocky, please adopt a last-chance pet today. If you were one of the hundreds of people who were ready to contribute to Rocky’s care or transport: thank you. He’s set now, but we need your help: for the countless dogs and cats who will never become an internet sensation or a household name. Animals like Barley: a sweet, loving dog who has lived in a shelter for more than four years. While he’s enjoying a temporary respite in a foster home – with a Hall of Fame rocker, no less – Barley is just waiting to be someone’s hero. Maybe it will be you.