June 05, 2018

Adopting Retired War Dogs

JAG Corner: Adopting Retired War Dogs
By the ABA International Animal Law Committee

Military Working Dogs (MWDs), with their keen senses and tactical prowess, carry out explosives detection, search and rescue, sentry, and other military duties for which their canine attributes cannot be replicated by human or machine in warfare. MWDs have saved countless human lives by their service, and have often directly saved their human soldier handlers through a profound devotion for which they either endangered or sacrificed their own lives.

Over the past two decades, with the increasing deployments of MWDs and recognition of their valiant service, along with desire of their veteran handlers to adopt their "battle buddies," there have been some positive legal and legislative developments that provide recognition and funding for their retirement. However, there is more legal work to be done to effectuate these MWD welfare laws and policies.

At the 2018 Spring Meeting of the ABA’s Section of International Law ("SIL"), a 90-minute program highlighted not only the bravery of war dogs, but on the need for enhanced legal protections to guarantee their welfare, and to ensure the first right of adoption by their human solider partners upon retirement. The program, "Applying the Rule of Law to Protect Military Dogs as Deserving Heroes" was co-sponsored by the SIL International Animal Law Committee, ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section Animal Law Committee, ABA Veterans Legal Services Commission, New York City Bar Association Animal Law Committee, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

A key issue that was addressed by the panel is the absence of necessary regulations and protocols to implement the recent laws enacted to provide for the welfare of the MWDs. A 2018 report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense on the Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs (TEDD) program highlighted this lack of process for enforcing veterans' priority to adopt the TEDD dogs.

The audience heard the inspiring story of Sgt. Ryan Henderson, a TEDD Handler who was seriously injured in combat and then separated from his German Shepherd K-9 partner Satan. Sgt. Henderson searched tirelessly for years to find and adopt Satan upon the dog's retirement, until he was reunited with him through the pro bono legal services of Marilyn Forbes Phillips of the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson.

In addition, "contract war dogs" - deployed through contracts with the federal government - are not tracked and accounted for at retirement and therefore, not reunited with their handlers. The panel emphasized the efforts of non-profits to meet these challenges. Panelist Kristen Maurer, Co-Founder and President of Mission K9 Rescue, accompanied by Mako, a rescued contract dog, detailed the service of contract dogs, and the need to include them in MWD legal prescriptions for their care and retirement.

The program also discussed "dogs of war" - the in-country strays who become the companions or serve as unofficial sentries of our military, and require welfare protection. Their voice was eloquently heard through Meredith Ayan, Executive Director of the American Society for the Prevention of Animals International as she relayed the need for processes to ensure that veterans' returning home are able to adopt and return with these canine partners.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and his staff have worked for a number of years to promote the welfare of MWDs and to close the implementation loopholes. During the panel, Richard Kehoe, State Director for Senator Blumenthal, detailed the state of the law since the enactment of Robbie's Law in 2000 to facilitate MWD adoption, and subsequent federal appropriations.

In a video address to the panel audience, Senator Blumenthal reiterated his support for efforts to close the implementation loopholes and to provide additional care and protection for these courageous military and contract dogs. Senator Blumenthal invited the legal community to assist in the creation of a 'global model' to ensure the welfare of MWDs.

How to Get Involved

Immediately after the program, the SIL International Animal Law Committee formed a coalition working group comprised of ABA members and advisory experts to continue the dialogue to advance the protection and care of MWD and contract dogs, and to assist in improving government policy and processes for these canine heroes. If you would like to join the coalition please send an email with your contact information to intlanimal@mail.americanbar.org with subject line "MWD Coalition."