Thursday, May 26, 2011

A little respect, please, for our canine heroes

We’ll quite possibly never know the identities of all the commandos who successfully raided the compound of Osama bin Laden a few weeks ago, but we do know one of their names: Cairo. Not Bob Cairo or Tony Cairo, just Cairo. Cairo, you see, is a dog—probably but not necessarily a German Shepherd—who, according to Charlotte McDonald-Gibson of the British newspaper The Independent, was “tasked with tracking anyone who tried to escape Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.”

Wearing better protection than most soldiers will ever see, and sporting tens of thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment, Cairo went into action and brought honor to his unit, the same way thousands of other Military Working Dogs (MWD’s) have done over decades of service. These dogs are highly trained: some are used, as Cairo was, to track and detain those who might escape from a merely human attack force; others detect drugs or explosives, not infrequently saving lives in the process. ABC News had a good background story on these dogs when, only a couple of days after the mission in Abbottabad, it became known that not all the personnel on that mission were of the two-legged variety. Reportedly, the canines on duty in Afghanistan have been so effective at their respective jobs that the Taliban has put a bounty on their heads.

Cairo’s fame calls attention to the service of these dogs, but it may have had an additional benefit for his fellow canine warriors: not for their time in service, but afterwards. It seems that interest in adopting retired MWD’s has skyrocketed after the death of bin Laden and the revelation of Cairo’s contribution to the mission. Julie Watson and Sue Manning of the Associated Press report that “[while] about 300 retired U.S. military dogs are put up for adoption each year, military officials say they've received more than 400 adoption applications in the three weeks since the May 2 raid.” That’s a good thing.

But Watson and Manning also point to a very disturbing fact: while Gerry Proctor, a spokesman for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where the military's dog adoption program is based, says that no animals who could reasonably be adopted out are euthanized now (another source says “very few” are euthanized), as had once been standard procedure after the dogs had outlived their military usefulness (way to take care of your own, guys!), the military is, as ever, bound by profoundly stupid regulations.

You see, the dogs that have been transported all around the world to risk their lives to protect soldiers and civilians alike, when they retire (or become “excess,” to use the military’s charming locution) they cease to belong to the DOD. Thus, “[putting] a retired dog in a crate on a military cargo flight is against the rules.” In other words, prospective adopters (handlers get first dibs, police second, civilians third) need to pay as much as $2000 to have the animals shipped back to the US via commercial carrier from wherever they’re stationed, when it would in fact cost virtually nothing to put an extra crate on a military plane that’s already headed to the US.

How freaking stupid is that?

Well, according to Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, the DOD MWD executive, it would be “fraud, waste and abuse for the DOD to transport that pet.” Seriously. In the world of $600 toilet seat covers and multi-billion dollar weapons systems that don’t work, what passes for fraudulent, wasteful and abusive in Hertog’s world is showing a little respect for comrades-in-arms and getting them to a loving home a little sooner? Surely she can’t believe that nonsense, right? I mean, how about we ship that… erm… “equipment” back home and then retire it?

Someone who does have it absolutely right is Debbie Kandoll, head of an organization called Military Working Dog Adoptions, headquartered in Las Cruces, NM. In her words, "Uncle Sam gave the dogs a ride over. He should give them a ride back.” Madeleine (Mrs. T. Boone) Pickens, who last year adopted her own Iraq veteran MWD (Chyba, pictured above in front of the memorial for which he was the model), adds that the failure to transport the dogs home is “like leaving a soldier behind.” Yes, ma’am, it is.

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