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Military dogs take Capitol Hill to spotlight importance of bringing home four-footed veterans

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(Source: Mission K9 Rescue/Facebook) (Source: Mission K9 Rescue/Facebook)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WIS) -American Humane Association and three military hero dog teams it helped reunite took to Capitol Hill Wednesday to make an urgent case to the nation and the general public for bringing home all four-footed veterans who save lives on the battlefield and on the homefront.

The congressional briefing, "Military dogs take the Hill: Reunification and retirement of military dogs," centered on a message urging America and its leaders to work on behalf of these brave dogs and honor their service after retirement.

When service men and women end their tours of duty and return home, their faithful military dogs do not always follow. American Humane Association, which has been working with Mission K9 Rescue to bring home and reunite hero war dogs with their handlers and has been working with the military for nearly 100 years, presented its case for why this needs to change, both for veterans and to make sure four-footed soldiers get the hero's welcome, loving, forever home, and happy, healthy, and dignified retirement they so richly deserve after a lifetime of service to their country.

Many of these dogs do find their way back to American soil, but some still slip through the cracks. While the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 authorizes the transfer of a retiring military working dog if no suitable adopter is available at the military facility where the dog is located, this is not guaranteed. The fact is that if a military war dog is retired in a non-combat zone overseas, that dog becomes a civilian and cannot travel on military transport.

"The solution is simple: Military War Dogs should be brought home before being retired," said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association's President and CEO said while addressing the audience at the Congressional briefing. "We believe this should be the case for all our war dogs: contract working and military working dogs. And, their former handlers, who have the strongest bond with these animals, should be given the first chance to adopt."

Another area of concern is the situation with contract working dogs. While many private contract companies that supply trained animals to the armed forces are working to bring these dogs home, there are no government regulations regarding the welfare and retirement outcomes for these remarkable dogs.

The private companies have custody of the animals and are in control of their outcome. Though these dogs are privately owned, they spent their lives protecting our soldiers, and they deserve to have their welfare guaranteed and to be returned to the United States. Given the special circumstances of these dogs, there should be some requirements in the government contracts for such private companies to ensure their well-being.

Veterinary care is another concern for these lifesaving four-legged heroes. Regulations state that a system may be established for the medical care of retired working dogs, but such regulations prohibit federal funding. American Humane Association instead called on the private sector to embrace the health and well being of these retired hero dogs by funding a veterinary care program with American Humane Association.

With an estimated 2,500 military working dogs and contract working dogs working side by side with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need has never been greater to bring each dog home. The dogs have noses that are 100,000 times more sensitive than humans', giving them an unparalleled ability to sniff out and detect weapons caches and Improvised Explosive Devices. It is estimated that each military working dog saves the lives of between 150-200 service members.

Among the hero dog teams who spoke of the need to bring home all our four-footed veterans were:

MWD Cila and Sgt. Jason Bos, who served close to 100 missions in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

MWD Ryky and Sgt. James Harrington, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan from 2008 to 2011, working working in front of a convoy to sniff out deadly IEDs.

MWD Thor and Sgt. Deano Miller, who spent every moment in Afghanistan together identifying IEDs but had been separated since 2010.

American Humane Association 2013 Military Hero Dog of the Year CWD Carlos and Ruby Ridpath, who spent five years protecting soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan

"Mankind has always had a special relationship with dogs, and today military dogs are more important than ever in keeping our service men and women safe. Faced daily with life or death situations, the bond between these dogs and those who work with them is nearly unbreakable," added Dr. Ganzert. "There are a variety of issues and possible solutions to helping more military hero dogs and their hero handlers and we are calling on Americans and our leaders to help."

To help bring home even more military dogs, please visit www.americanhumane.org.

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