WASHINGTON – They’re ex-warriors, trained to find bombs and guard military bases, but they’re looking for a loving home. And they soon could get it.
President Clinton is expected to sign a bill that would allow the adoption of military dogs, many of which are now put down when their working days are over. Congress gave final approval to the bill late Thursday.
Passage of the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R- Frederick, was hailed by animal rights groups and the dogs’ former trainers, who said it was the right thing to do for animals that had served their country as valiantly as many soldiers.
“I think to use an animal for our benefit and then to destroy them and throw them in a garbage truck is inhumane and immoral,” said William Putney, a retired Marine captain and veterinarian who worked with and cared for military dogs during World War II.
His feelings were echoed by Cem Akin, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Although Akin lamented the fact that the dogs still spend most of their lives in military labor, he said the bill is “definitely a step in the right direction.”
“I think it gives working dogs in general respect and a chance to receive just retirements,” Akin said.
There are currently about 1,400 working dogs in all branches of the U.S. military and another 400 in training for jobs ranging from bomb detection to guard duty, according to officials at Lackland Air Force Base, where many of the dogs are trained.
The bill would clear the way for experienced dog handlers, federal agencies or people who are sufficiently trained in handling the animals to adopt old dogs that are no longer needed for training exercises. A military spokesman said the exact number of dogs that might be available for adoption has not yet been determined.
At the urging of the armed services, the bill would also clear the United States of any liability for veterinary care or attacks by the dogs.
The bill, introduced by Bartlett in September, was originally designed to halt what he said was the military policy of putting down aging service dogs. After the armed services complained that such a policy never existed, the bill’s language was amended to focus on adoption of the dogs instead, said a Bartlett spokeswoman.
The House passed the bill in early October and sent it to the Senate, where it was amended to emphasize the United States was not liable for damages or care after adoption.
But Putney said he would not be worried about opening his home to a dog trained by the military.
“I would trust these dogs next door to my grandchildren more than dogs from a breeder, more than dogs from a pound,” he said.
The House agreed to the Senate changes Thursday and sent the bill to the president for his signature.
Bobby Railey, the vice president of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, said the dogs are still not being given the credit they deserve for their work. But he conceded that the bill is at least a step in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t call it a victory, it’s one of the goals we’ve been working on for awhile,” said Railey, adding that success would come when the public has been educated about “what these dogs did.”