Since 2000, Congress has acted to improve the treatment of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) by facilitating their adoption at the end of their careers and authorizing the creation of a program of post-retirement veterinary care. Thanks to these new provisions, MWDs—after years of being treated as “surplus equipment”—should have been assured the respect they deserve.
A recently released audit by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) suggests otherwise, at least when it comes to a significant subset of MWDs. The audit evaluated the post-deployment treatment of the Army’s tactical explosive detection dogs (TEDDs), a separate and temporary “capability” intended to support brigade combat teams in Afghanistan. The TEDD program, which ran from 2010 through 2014, was regarded as a “nontraditional” MWD function. Due to the urgent need for this specialized detection capability that the MWD command was unable to meet, the dogs were neither procured nor retired through the authorized MWD system but rather through a contractor.
When former handlers were rebuffed in their efforts to locate their dogs after their tours of duty, they raised alarms about the fate of the animals. They were right to be worried. In 2016, the US House Armed Services Committee “expressed concern over the Army’s lack of sufficient responsiveness in addressing generally known challenges to the TEDD adoption process,” which included “persistent concerns raised by former TEDD handlers regarding their opportunity to adopt a TEDD.” The committee requested an independent investigation by the DoD OIG. Among other things, the inspector general found that handlers were not “prioritized” for adoptions, “sufficient management and oversight” of the program were not provided, and there was no plan for placement of TEDDs after the program ended. The result: The contractor mishandled the dogs, often adopting them out without giving their handlers the opportunity to adopt them (the law requiring handler preference was not enacted until 2015, after this program was terminated) and without screening potential owners for their ability to handle these specially trained animals. Disposition records were incomplete or missing, and some dogs were left languishing in cages for nearly a year.
Staff at the kennel where many of the dogs were housed felt that the Army was determined to “get rid of the dogs as quickly as possible.” While documenting the Army’s failure to follow established MWD processes, the DoD OIG’s report failed to fully examine the actions of Soliden Technologies, a private firm that adopted 13 of the dogs under false premises. Saying that they would be trained as service dogs, the company in fact planned to send the dogs to foreign countries for military use. This plan fell through and the dogs were abandoned at the kennel. Eventually, the majority of the dogs were reunited with their former handlers.
In the end, these war heroes were treated like surplus equipment—and worse—after all. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a longtime champion of MWDs and the author of some of the provisions to protect them, believes further inquiry is warranted. “It’s time for us to ask for some updates on the programs and process, and that’s what I intend to do.”