WASHINGTON – A month after President Clinton signed a bill to allow the adoption of military service dogs that might otherwise be put to sleep, legal delays and an apparent lack of interest have prevented any of the animals from being adopted, officials said.
“I’ve received one or two e-mails,” Gary Emery, a spokesman at Lackland Air Force Base, said last week. Lackland is the hub of service dog operations for the military.
And he said those who have asked about taking in a dog have been put on hold while officials hammer out legal language designed to protect the military, should an adopted dog later injure someone or need veterinary care.
Still, Emery said, officials expect to have all the details ironed out within two months at the latest. Until then, aging working dogs are being held in their field posts instead of being sent back to Lackland in Texas, which had been military policy for dogs that had outlived their usefulness.
Currently, the military has about 1,800 war dogs under its command, with 1,400 in the field and another 400 in training at Lackland for jobs ranging from bomb detection to guard duty.
While adoption requests for the dogs have been much lower than supporters had hoped for, they are optimistic that interest will pick up.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, who sponsored the dog-adoption bill, predicts that numbers will eventually reach post-World War II levels, when 500 dogs were adopted. He said there is great public interest in the issue.
“The response to this has been overwhelming,” Bartlett said. “We’ve gotten more mail on this than any other single thing we’ve done.”
Under the law, only military dog handlers, federal agencies or civilians who are sufficiently trained in handling the animals are allowed to adopt the dogs.
The House passed the bill in early October and sent it to the Senate, where it was amended to emphasize that the government would not be liable for damages or care after adoption — the “hold harmless” clause that is currently being hammered out.
The law, signed by Clinton on Nov. 6, also requires that the military file a report detailing the circumstances every time a service dog is put down rather than adopted. Bartlett said he would be watching implementation of that provision closely.
He said he included that section to cope with what he believes is a blanket euthanasia policy by the military for its retired dogs. Military officials insist there is no such policy and that dogs are put down only when medically necessary.
Animal rights groups have applauded the law and said they will continue to monitor it as it is put into effect, to make sure the military stays on track.
“We will monitor them (the euthanasia reports) to make sure there is a difference,” said Julie Shellenberger, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society.
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