The Journey to Adopt Disabled Military Working Dogs

…I will quietly listen to you And pass no judgment. Nor will your spoken words be repeated. I will remain ever silent, ever vigilant, ever loyal. And when our time together is done and you move on in the world, remember me with kind thoughts and tales. For a time we were unbeatable, nothing passed among us undetected. If we should ever meet again on another field I will gladly take up your fight.”

(The life of a police dog, author unknown).

Police dogs that become disabled or grow too old for active duty usually retire to home life with their human partners. But military working dogs that became disabled or grew old were not usually adopted by their handlers. When the tour of duty was over for a military canine handler, the canine partner was often left behind.

The service dog was sometimes matched up with another handler. However, the process to adopt the dog by the handler who bonded with the dog was not an option.

Dogs that no longer worked or grew old and disabled after years of service during wartime operations were often euthanized when retired. That was common practice prior to and following the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg and a sentry dog named Nemo made history. Thorneburg was Nemo’s second handler. Nemo was the first service dog to be put back to work after he was injured in the line of duty. In 1967, Nemo’s injuries ultimately led to him becoming the first sentry dog to be retired. He lived until 1972.

Despite to have been shot in the head and blinded in one eye, Nemo continued to engage the enemy. After he was wounded, Nemo climbed on top of his wounded handler and would not let anybody come close to Thorneburg. Eventually both were separated, treated and recovered from their wounds.

Did Nemo bond with his handler?The U.S. Department of Defense had the authority to determine whether or not the dog was considered to be an asset. In the past, the judgment that a dog was no longer an asset often resulted in the euthanization of the dog.

Dogs retired or disabled were returned to Lackland Air Force Base, the Military Working Dog Agency, in San Antonio,. for an uncertain future. In 2000, that changed with the enactment of the Robby Law, in honor of a military dog named Robby. House Resolution 5314, the draft bill introduced by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, was adopted and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in November 2000. Despite repeated efforts by Robby’s handler to adopt him, Robby was euthanized.

Though the law didn’t save Robby, this tragedy has led to some positive changes in the adoption of disabled or retired military service animals.

The Department of Defense, because of Robby’s Law, now allows for the adoption of military dogs.. The adoption priority process is first to former handlers, then to law enforcement, and lastly to families who want to adopt one of these special dogs..

People who adopt these dogs must have the skills, ability and financial resources to handle and care for their adopted dogs. Concerns were raised as to how dogs trained to attack people would not exhibit such behavior to adopted handlers. These handlers who may not have been the initial handler of the adopted dog underwent training to learn how to work and play with such dogs.

Read more about military dogs next week.

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