New lives for old dogs
SAN ANTONIO - Prior to the year 2000 when a Military Working Dog was retired from service it was euthanized, but on Sept. 27, 2000, Congress passed "Robby's Law," which allows military dogs to be adopted once they retire.
"I'm glad the law was changed and the military can adopt these dogs out," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Heinzig, an operations sergeant with 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. "They deserve to be adopted. They have put a lot on the line and risked their lives for us. The least we can do is give them a home."
Lackland Air Force Base in Texas runs the Military Working Dog school, and adoption program. According to their website, they adopt out between 300 and 400 dogs annually, and the dog stays at the base where it retires until it is adopted.
"When a military dog retires, we take care of them here until they're adopted," said Heinzig. "Anyone can adopt one."
The majority of animals adopted go to their former handlers but Lackland has younger dogs available for adoption according to Heinzig.
"The last handler gets first 'dibs' on his dog," said Heinzig. "We know the dogs and it's easier for us to adopt them."
The wait time to adopt one is about a 12 to 18 months, because of the limited number that retire each year. Heinzig suggests people fill out an application as soon as they know they want to adopt.
There is no cost for people to adopt, but future owners will need to pay for transportation of the dog. Potential owners should also be aware of the possible health challenges that these dog will face.
"A lot of these dogs will have joint issues and other aches and pains, because they have been working their whole lives," said Heinzig. "Many of them are getting retired at nine or 10 years old, and for a large breed dog that's miraculous."
Other considerations when adopting a military working dog, or MWD, may include making sure they have plenty of space to exercise, and a safe place to sleep. They were working dogs and are happiest when they have something to do, Heinzig added.
Aggression may be a concern for many people, after all they are military dogs and some were trained to bite as part of their jobs. Before a retired MWD can be adopted, it is screened for suitability. The dogs are put through a three phase test to determine their ability to transition to a household pet.
"The first test is to see if the dog responds aggressively when the owner is verbally assaulted," said Heinzig. "The second test is to see how the dog responds when it is yelled at and the third determines how it responds to the bite pads we use to train them."
The majority of the dogs pass and the likelihood that one will bite is almost zero, according to Heinzig. These dogs are trained to respond to their handlers and are very well trained. The key is to spend time with the dogs.
"If you can train a dog to do something, you can certainly train it not to do it as well," said Heinzig. "Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks."
The available animals range from patrol dogs to drug and explosives detection dogs, said Sgt. Eric Harter, a dog handler with the 504th MP Battalion. Rather than calling the kennel here on base to see what dogs we have, potential adopters should contact the adoption program at Lackland.
New owners of retired MWD's sign a document that forbids them from using the dog for any of the activities they trained for during their military career said Heinzig. The document protects the military and the dog from misuse.
Currently two dog handlers here are in the process of adopting MWD's they partnered with. The two dogs are being retired after years of service they provided cause injuries that prevent them from keeping up with the rigorous work demands required of them.
"I'm looking forward to spending time with my dog, Blitz, off duty and giving him the life he deserves," said Harter. "I picked him up in June 2011, and deployed with him in 2012, to Afghanistan."
Anyone interested in adopting a retired Military Working Dog can go to www.jbsa.af.mil, and look for the adoption program.