By BOBBIE O'BRIEN
Off The Base
March 7, 2012
Army veteran Kevin Hanrahan and author of Paws on the Ground has taken up the campaign to have military working dogs recognized as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Currently, military dogs who have saved thousands of lives are considered equipment.
Kevin has given me permission to republish his blog posts. Here are the words of a man who oversaw the Working Dog Program for United States Forces in Afghanistan from, May 2010 to May 2011:
Currently working dogs are classified as equipment in the military.
1. Retired Military Working Dogs are stranded at their final duty station.
2. Military Working Dogs receive no medical benefits after retirement.
3. Military Working Dogs receive no recognition for their faithful service.
I lost a leg for my country. Do I look like equipment?
Let me tell you what this means from a Soldier’s perspective. Let’s take our hero Military Working Dog Anax who lost a leg fighting for his country? Specialist Marc Whittaker and Anax are currently stationed in Germany. Marc is adopting the retired military working dog. Transporting Anax back to the United States could cost Marc anywhere from $500-$1000. If you have ever been a specialist in the military as I have you know Marc’s pockets aren’t lined with cash.
We in the Army are retiring our military dogs sooner than ever before. Many of these four-legged troopers have multiple combat deployments. Currently the person who is kind enough to adopt these heroes must pay their bills.
How is specialist Marc Whittaker going to pay for the future care of the three-legged Soldier that took a bullet meant for him? I have talked to many senior leaders in the Department of Defense Military Working dog program and every single one on them told me a story of their troops who weren’t able to adopt their working dogs because they wouldn’t be able to afford the veterinarian costs. Can you imagine having to give up your own dog because you can’t afford the veterinarian bills? This happens to our service members all the time.
You may ask yourself why should we give dogs recognition in the form of a medal or award? Shouldn’t we just give them some extra Milkbones?
My answer: Medals are simple trinkets. I have a drawer full of them. But the symbolism behind them is what is important. The working dog may not quite understand the medal, but their fellow service members will. Service members need to know that their fellow warrior’s commitment and sacrifices, whether they be two-legged or four-legged, will be recognized. They need to know that their sacrifices have meaning.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these four-legged warriors’ contribution to the fight is unquantifiable. If a working dog finds one 40 lb. Improvised Explosive Device and prevents it from being detonated, how many fellow warriors’ lives and limbs did he or she just save?
When I oversaw the Working Dog Program for United States Forces in Afghanistan from May 2010 to May 2011, workings dogs prevented thousands of IEDs and other explosives from being used against our troops. These four-legged warriors risk their lives. They ask for only one thing in return: the unconditional love of their handler.
Commanders on the ground have recognized these four-legged service member’s contributions and many times have presented them unofficial hero’s medals. But they are not officially recognized by the Department of Defense.
You can read Kevin Hanrahan’s full blog post advocating for legislation that recognizes Military Working Dogs as Service Members HERE.