All Military Working Dogs Deserve to Come Home After Service. Too Many Are Being Left Behind

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U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Angela Cardone and military working dog
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Angela Cardone, a military working dog handler with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, conducts training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Oct. 19, 2018. (Seth Rosenberg/U.S. Marine Corps)

Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., is president and CEO of American Humane. She is the author of "Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World."

Last month, retired military working dog Bogi traveled more than 4,000 miles, from Iwakuni, Japan, to Honolulu, Hawaii, to be reunited with her former handler, Marine Corps Sgt. Angela Cardone. It was a heartwarming, beautiful reunion, and one that deserves to be replicated every time an MWD retires from service.

Sadly, however, this is not the case, as bringing these K-9 veterans back home after service and ensuring they receive proper veterinary care can be a logistical nightmare too difficult to overcome.

On National K-9 Veterans Day (March 13), we pay tribute to the contributions of our four-legged military heroes and call on Congress to introduce and pass legislation that provides grants for the transportation and care of retired MWDs.

For more than eight decades, MWDs have officially served alongside our brave men and women in uniform, keeping our sons and daughters safe from harm. While today's MWDs no longer ferry messages through combat territory, they provide an invaluable layer of added security that modern technology cannot replicate. A dog's nose has up to 300 million olfactory receptors, which are the biological tools used to detect airborne odors. Human noses, for comparison, have just 5 to 6 million. That means a canine can detect a single drop of a dangerous substance in more than 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Each dog can save hundreds of lives. Consider MWD Troll, who was awarded the American Humane Lois Pope K-9 Medal of Courage on Capitol Hill in 2019. While deployed to Afghanistan, Troll logged 1,240 hours while conducting 89 combat missions. During a single raid on an insurgent compound, Troll sniffed out three improvised explosive devices, keeping 65 coalition force members safe. There is no price tag that can be put on this courageous feat or others like it.

Just a few years ago, Congress recognized these irrefutable facts and signed into law legislation to give courageous K-9s the retirements they deserve. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act mandates that handlers of these special veterans be given first rights of adoption upon retirement. This provision helps ensure that battle buddies who serve together, and protect one another, can remain together. The law also stipulates that MWDs retire on American soil.

To make these laws a reality for retired MWDs and their handlers, American Humane and other non-governmental organizations work to marshal and allocate the funds necessary to bring these dogs to U.S. soil and give them the retirements they so rightfully deserve. Flying K-9s back from military bases abroad and foreign combat zones is no easy task. Many airlines and planes aren't equipped to ensure the safest possible journey, and the cost can easily reach into the thousands of dollars.

Congress is to be applauded for taking the first step in allowing our MWDs to be adopted by their battle buddies. It's time, however, for Congress to take the next courageous step and allocate funds for their safe return and veterinary care so that our K-9 veterans may enjoy healthy, happy retirements.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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