After Their Service

After Their Service

“Explosions outside the perimeter were normal throughout the day, with incoming mortar fire coming dangerously close until quelled by Air Force strikes near the base.

A general sense of unease was present among the ranks and no one knew what might happen next.

The explosions seemed to bother the military working dogs even more as they would spin in their kennels constantly.

Their stress and fatigue were evident, as several had worked for years and were close to retirement.”

Their sacrifice for mankind was evident and compelling. They did not ask to serve. They were bred to serve.

This story was relayed by a working dog handler stationed in one of the most active areas for fighting in Afghanistan. He had seen military dogs lose their lives in search of explosives; in other cases, their human handlers lost their lives either by enemy fire or hidden bombs. He related the reality of PTSD for these dogs as a result of their service, and the hope that they would receive something better in retirement.

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A military working dog, or their civilian (privately owned) equivalent, the contract working dog, normally serves for up to 12 years, with injury or declining drive to work as precursors to retirement. They live in kennels during their working lives.

Military dogs have as many as four handlers during their careers. When the dogs retire, the first handler gets the first choice to adopt, then it goes down the list. There are times when a handler might not be able to adopt a dog they served with due to continued service, or because the dog would not fare well with small children. In that case, they pass the offer to the other handlers.

Only a few military dogs are up for adoption, and most go to their handlers.

Dogs owned by the government have the benefit of great healthcare while working, as well as good living conditions. However, when retired overseas, the military no longer considers them assets and does not provide transport home. If a military handler wants to adopt their dog, they are responsible for arranging and covering all transportation costs. Veterinary care after retirement is also on the shoulders of the adopter, as the government provides none for these brave K9s that risked it all.

Organizations like Mission K9 Rescue work to make it possible for dogs and handlers to be reunited at no cost to the handlers.

Privately owned contract working dogs can receive less-than-adequate nutrition and care, and may even be locked away once retired. Financial concerns can strand entire groups. Many dogs are worked by foreign nationals and have no handlers to reunite with stateside. Many have to be rescued from abroad by organizations like Mission K9. Since 2013 they have been able to rescue or transport over 1000 dogs from locations all over the world and find them loving homes.

There is a special joy in witnessing the reunion between a working dog and their handler. Many times, they have been apart for more than a year — yet there is an instant flash of recognition when the handler’s K9 partner sees them, followed by a wagging tail and a rush to greet them. The bond is undeniable, and you can see the change in both at that instant. It is a beautiful thing to behold, and both dog and handler deserve to maintain that special bond they share.

In years past, the end of a dog’s working life meant the end of their entire life; however, with changes in minds, hearts, and laws, this is no longer the case. Now, these brave dogs that give their all can have the hope of a comfortable retirement with the people they love and trust. We owe them this, along with a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice.

They are veterans too!

Special thanks to:

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Mission K9 Rescue

Mission K9 Rescue is committed to all retiring Working Dogs. Our focus is to assist with adoption facilitation, rehoming, rescue from shelters, and transport to forever homes for all dogs who serve. It is our belief that these Working Dogs give everything of themselves to help mankind and they deserve the same dedication in return.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions