When the horrors of war are considered, few individuals likely consider the service provided by dogs in helping protect the brave soldiers that literally put their life on the line every day. However, without such service, anywhere from 150-200 of those soldiers would die as a result of the absence from just one of man’s best friends.
Those dogs are used for the extremely dangerous task of sniffing for weapons that have been planted or the presence of improvised explosive devices, more commonly known as IED’s. Even when not performing that duty, the dogs help provide a sense of love and loyalty to individuals far away from family and friends.
One of the continuing problems that has developed over the course of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that the concern for the dogs after performing such services was generally neglected. That prompted the American Humane Association (AHA) to begin lobbying Congress to make sure that the dogs were returned to the United States.
That support paid off when the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act was passed, which included specific language that required that retired military dogs to be returned to America. The leaders in having the specific language pertaining to dogs included were Republican congressman Frank Lobiando from New Jersey and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.
In contrast to the usual conflicts of having politicians from both sides of the political aisle holding up legislation for politically partisan reasons, the bill received strong support from both Republicans and Democrats. It was then quickly signed into law by President Obama on November 25, 2015.
The signing of that bill was the culmination of 16 months of work by the AHA, which first brought up the issue in July 2014. One of the earliest focuses with that effort involved making sure that the dogs would be guaranteed veterinary care, which resulted in an early agreement with the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey. In that instance, the setup was much like the medical benefits that human veterans receive from the Veterans Administration.
Also during this span of time, the AHA made arrangements for 21 military dogs to be returned to the United States. At the time the task was undertaken, such dogs were not guaranteed a spot on aircraft used to return soldiers home.
When these dogs reach American soil, they will be offered up for adoption, with their military handlers having the first choice when it comes to determining whether or not to adopt them. For many individuals, that consideration is considered superfluous, but those handlers often consider the dog a true veteran.
One of the most important aspects of bringing these dogs home can be in helping soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That debilitating disorder has led to many soldiers committing suicide or otherwise suffer needlessly. Different organizations have been set up to match veterans with dogs, including Paws for Veterans and Service Dogs for America.
There have been some cases in which the dogs themselves end up suffering from PTSD, which had previously meant that those left behind were forced to struggle with little or no help.
Other stories offer strong evidence of the lasting relationship between soldiers and dogs. In the case of veteran Bret Reynolds, his handling of a Belgian Malinois named Bernie was a key factor in keeping him safe, thanks to Bernie’s ability to sniff out potential detonating devices. The two returned home and were together until Bernie’s death, with Reynolds later arranging a special memorial service in recognition of the dog’s service.