Military working dogs that were disabled or grew old were not usually adopted by their handlers or the public until recent changes were made. Current programs may allow for the adoption of these dogs. These programs have changed over the years. In 2010, the Lackland Air Force Base 341st Training Squadron (TRS) began to train combat teams that included Marines and specially trained service dogs for tracking and behavior recognition.
The dogs were trained to follow a human quarry. The handlers now have the legal option to adopt their four legged partners. If the handler has the space and the resources, why not?
Resources are essential. The Department of Defense doesn’t provide financial coverage for the veterinarian care of adopted military working dogs. The person who adopts these dogs has to cover all veterinarian costs for that former military service animal. That is different from retired dogs through Guide Dogs for the Blind. Dogs that were trained by that program are given up to $250 annually for routine veterinarian care for the entire life of the dog. Should the Department of Defense do the same for its retired or disabled dogs?
My dogs were dog guides for the blind. Both were trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind, California and Oregon campuses, 1995 and 2004. Like the military trained team of handler and dog I also bonded quickly with my dogs and them with me. That bonding is powerful, as indicated in the stories recounted in last week’s blog post.
I had many wonderful years with my first dog guide, who was retired in 2004. I likewise enjoy playing and working with my current dog that is now in the prime of his life.
When I had to put down my first dog guide, Frisco, I made that difficult decision when it was clear to me he was ready to go. He was in far too much pain the last week of his life. The veterinarian told me it was time for Frisco to exit and I sadly agreed. As I carried Frisco’s nearly fifteen year old body across our front lawn one more time on that warm May 7th day in 2008, a steady flow of tears rolled down my face. Regardless of how terrible I felt at the time, I made sure he had a last journey across the soft grass he often played on, ran on and rested during his lifetime. I received his ashes a week later, and the golden urn that holds Frisco’s ashes has a permanent place at our home.
We were a team for more than 10 years. In that time, we established mutual trust.
I imagine the same for the handlers of any military working dog. The option to adopt is a good and necessary thing for both the retired service animal and handler. That connection is lifelong. Sure, these are dogs, but they are incredibly remarkable dogs. There is something unique and special that develops between handler and dog.
I adopted my first dog guide and will do likewise with my second. The option to adopt a dog guide helps the dog to remain in the only home the dog knows after graduation from any formal training program.
The option to adopt a military dog is also important, helpful and healing for military trained handler and dog because of such a strong bond between the two living beings. When that sad day comes for the dog to exit this life, the remains of the dog should have a respectful place to rest, be it in an urn or grave. These dogs deserve at least a good life while working and retired as well as a place to rest after death because of all the years of loyal service.