WASHINGTON – A congressional proposal that could save military dogs from their current fate of being put down shortly after their working days are over will come too late for retired Airman 1st Class John Langley.
Langley, a founding member of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, left his Germanshepherd, Vogie, in Southeast Asia in 1968. He discovered years later that Vogie, his sentry partner, never made it back.
“That was the worst part, guys had no idea what would happen to their dogs,” Langley said. “The politicians just didn’t put much value in the dogs, they treated them like equipment and got rid of them accordingly.”
Given the chance, Langley said he would have adopted his dog without a second thought — a sentiment shared by many members of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, which met in Washington this weekend.
The bill currently working its way through Congress would allow handlers to do just that. The measure would make retired service dogs available for adoption by their handlers or someone trained in looking after them, including police and federal agencies.
It passed the House by voice vote last week and heads to the Senate with just days left in this Congress.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, and 38 co- sponsors, originally called on the Defense Department to end its policy of mandatory euthanasia for dogs that were no longer useful. That language was stripped out at the urging of military officials, who insisted that no such policy existed.
The bill now simply makes the animals available for adoption and requires an annual report detailing the reasons for euthanizing those animals that still have to be put down.
While the point is now moot, a Bartlett spokeswoman insisted that the congressman had sources “in the back offices” who told him that the formal policy of putting down old dogs did exist, despite military denials.
“We didn’t get this out of thin air,” said Sallie Taylor, the spokeswoman. “People were telling us things about the dogs and how they were mistreated.”
But she said Bartlett believes the bill will serve the same purpose in its current form.
The Senate has received the House bill, but has not yet acted on it. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., plans to introduce a similar bill this week.
House and Senate leaders have said they hope to adjourn by the end of this week, but aides in both Smith’s and Bartlett’s offices said they believe there is still time to pass the dog bill.
“We’ve cleared it on our side, but the Democrats are holding it up,” said Smith spokeswoman Lisa Harrison, who said it was probably more of a problem of timing than partisanship.
Both the Defense Department and the Air Force said they had no position on the bill and would comply with whatever the law dictated.
But veterans have stronger feelings about the measure.
“I would have adopted my dog in a second,” said Spencer Dixon, a retired Army sergeant who lost his dog, Shack, in 1969. “About 102 percent of the guys here would have.”
Dixon held back tears as he described his final mission in Vietnam, a scouting assignment near Saigon to clear an of ambushes and traps. He was eager to finish the job, which was scheduled to be his last before shipping out.
“I was with a scout dog walking point for the infantry,” he said. “I ran ahead of my dog, something you’re not supposed to do.”
That decision almost cost Dixon, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star winner, his life.
Enemy troops who were lying in ambush “waited for me to call my dog,” he said. As soon as he did, a remote mine exploded, tearing Shack apart right in front of him.
“A lot of what hit me went through him,” said Dixon, staring off. “I would’ve have been here if it wasn’t for him.”