Left Behind: Military Dogs Fight for the Hero’s Return They Deserve

Military dogs and handlers make an urgent case for bringing canine veterans home from war.

When service men and women end their tours of duty and return home, their heroic military dog partners do not always follow. While some dogs eventually find their way back to the United States, many still slip through the cracks.

In Washington, D.C. the American Humane Association, Mission K9 Rescue, which has been working with the military for almost 100 years, and three military hero dog teams, spoke to the nation, members of the national media, and the general public about bringing home all canine veterans that save lives on the battlefield. The congressional briefing, titled “Military dogs take the Hill: Reunification and retirement of military dogs,” aimed to speak for these brave dogs and honor their service after retirement.


Military Dogs Take the Hill. Photo from AHA

Military Dog and Handler team takes the Hill


Military Dogs Take the Hill. Photo from AHA


According to the National Defense Authorization Act, a retired military working dog can be transferred if no suitable adopter is available at the military facility where the dog is located at the time of retirement. But there are loopholes to this Act. If a military war dog is retired in a non-combat zone overseas, the dog becomes a civilian and cannot travel on military transport.

“The solution is simple: Military War Dogs should be brought home before being retired,” says Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association’s president and CEO 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.”

Military Dogs Take the Hill. Photo by AHA

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


Also not included in the NDAA, are contract working dogs. Ganzert states that there is currently no government regulation regarding the welfare and retirement of those dogs and their fates lie in the hands of private contracted companies. AHA is proposing that there should be a requirement in government contracts for private companies to ensure the canine’s well-being.

Four-footed soldiers deserve a hero’s welcome, loving, forever home, and happy healthy, and dignified retirement, which they deserve for the amount of service to their country. Along with receiving a warm welcome home, these war dogs need veterinary care. Regulations state that a system can be established for the medical care of retired military dogs, however the regulations prohibit federal funding. AHA made a case to the private sector to discuss and help the health and well-being of the retired canine heroes by funding a veterinary care program with AHA.


Military Dogs Take the Hill. Photo from AHA

Around 2,500 military working dogs have worked side by side with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, not to mention countless wars in the past where canines have saved soldiers lives. Dogs have noses that are 100,000 times more sensitive than humans’, which gives them the ability to detect weapons caches and Improvised Explosive Devices. It is estimated that each working dog saves the lives of 150-200 service members.



Military Dogs Take the Hill. Photo from AHA

MWD Cila and Sgt. Jason Bos, who served close to 100 missions in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and MWD Thor and Sgt. Deano Miller, who spent every moment in Afghanistan together identifying IEDs but had been separated since 2010.



“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,” Dr. Ganzert says. “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.”

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