What happens to MWDs when they “retire”?

April 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Dogs, Military | 4 Comments

A few days ago I wrote about Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and the different jobs they have in the military. Lt Nixon, currently serving in Baghdad with the Narmy, left this comment on the post:

MWDs are pretty amazing pooches! The only sad thing is they have to put them down once they’re done performing their duties. Sorry to throw out that fly in the ointment.

Comment by LT Nixon — April 25, 2008

I am happy to report that although this was once almost universally true, it is no longer always true.

The usual fate of MWDs has changed several times since the Army K-9 Corps started in 1942 and it hasn’t always been a happy one. During WWII many American families donated their dogs to serve in the War effort. One of the most well known of these dogs even had a Disney movie made about his life in 1990 (Chips, the War Dog). Chips, like many of the other “donated dogs”, returned to his family after he was discharged from the military.

By the time of the Vietnam War, the pendulum had swung again. Thousands of dogs served in Southeast Asia…and only a few hundred made it back to the United States. Although many dogs died while serving, even more were left behind when the US left Vietnam. The official explanation was that there were public health/quarantine concerns that made it impossible for the dogs to return back to the US. Some dogs were euthanized while others were turned over to the South Vietnamese. It’s harder to say which was a worse fate. It’s the sad result of the military classifying a living being as “equipment”.

In 1999 the Discovery Channel aired a documentary titled “War Dogs: America’s Forgotten Heroes” for the first time. This documentary included archival video footage, photos, and interviews with former handlers and servicemen who close to 30 years later were devastated by what happened to their dogs. I cried every time I watched it (yes, I did watch more than once). A pet food company supported production of the documentary. It is available through the War Dog Memorial Fund. A DVD can be purchased for $20 and a videotape is available with a $10 donation to the fund. More information on the documentary is available here.

A lot has changed since then. Both in the military and in our culture at large. Dogs are treated very differently these days- I doubt that anyone in the late 60’s/early 70’s would have believed that entire businesses would exist and make a profit out of designing and selling fancy pet carriers and clothing for dogs. Pets in general are treated much more like family.

Within the military, the fate of MWDs has also changed with the times. In 2000 a law went into effect allowing adoptions once MWDs can no longer perform their jobs. This was followed in 2005 by a law that permits early adoptions by servicemembers who have worked with the MWD (this was inspired by an Air Force handler who was severely injured and wanted to adopt her dog).

These laws don’t mean that all MWDs who “retire” are adopted as some simply aren’t appropriate for adoption following their service. However, dogs that would have previously been euthanized are now being adopted. I will post a follow-up soon on adopting an MWD. I have the links ready, I just think it should be in a separate post with how long this one has become!

Be sure to come back and check it out. After all, who wouldn’t want to adopt a cutie like this one?



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  1. I agree with the policy that only MWD-handlers shoudl be allowed to adopt the pooches. Those dogs could be very dangerous if they were in the wrong hands (as much as I like dogs).

  2. LT N- Glad to see you survived the sandstorm and other “fun” on Sunday. I just wrote a post about adopting MWDs. Civilians actually can adopt them- not just handlers. They can’t adopt just any retired MWD, but some are OK for civilian adoption (detection dogs, dogs who “wash out” of training due to lack of drive, etc.).

  3. Thats disgusting that our military wont do its best for all the dogs. It says a lot about our countries state of mind, and the troops supporting our country. Dogs are simple to rehabilitate, Ive worked with them my entire life. If their handlers could control them than anyone they bond too could control them. All of them would have to be well socialized to even be able to function properly on the job. Shame on ANY military personel that participate in putting these dogs down, leaving them, or ignoring any problem arising from their contribution to this war.

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