Best Defense

Rebecca’s war dog of the week: Uncle Sam wants … your dog

By Rebecca Frankel Chief Canine Correspondent The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a call for able-bodied canines. The LA Times reported earlier this month that the DHS wants to beef up its reserve of bomb-sniffing and border patrol dogs, currently numbering around 2,000. The criteria? The dogs must fall within the age of 12 ...

U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall
U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall

By Rebecca Frankel
Chief Canine Correspondent

The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a call for able-bodied canines. The LA Times reported earlier this month that the DHS wants to beef up its reserve of bomb-sniffing and border patrol dogs, currently numbering around 2,000.

The criteria? The dogs must fall within the age of 12 months to 36 months and should be of the following breeds: Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, German shepherds, Dutch shepherds, and Belgian Malinois. The candidates must be "alert, active, outgoing, confident" who should be able to withstand a series of tests for "courage and toughness including the ability to disregard blows from a stick."

Calling the DHS search a "doggy draft" might sound ridiculous, but it wouldn’t be entirely off track and it’s not the first time the government has solicited war-dog recruits. The U.S. government began to officially integrate war dogs into its military efforts during WWII and launched a similar public campaign to enlist dogs during the Vietnam War. But as one NY Times reporter wrote on Nov. 14, 1971, "Getting into military services is more difficult for dogs than for people." At that time the process for donating or selling your dog into military service was long and arduous, fraught with a series of medical tests that many dogs failed outright — often due to early signs of hip dysplasia, common in purebreds, which accounted for two-thirds of those rejections — while others were deemed to have an ill-suited temperament.

One would imagine the standards are just as high today, and that the DHS will be as selective as it attempts to grow its security-dog force by 3,000 canines over the next five years. But the fact that DHS reached out to breeders has created something of a stir, riling up animal rights groups like PETA and the SPCA who feel that dogs from shelters should not only be considered for these slots, but should be the first resource employed. In an op-ed for the Washington Times, PETA’s founder and president, Ingrid E. Newkirk, wrote:

Statistics show that the success rate of service dogs adopted from animal shelters and rescue agencies is the same as that of dogs who are bred specifically for certification jobs. And shelters everywhere have the type of dogs Homeland Security is seeking…"

Once again it seems we’re crossing this question of whether or not strays can make fitting war dogs. If the dogs coming from breeders aren’t pre-trained, (the DHS has stated the says that it will handle all training) and the shelter dogs meet the medical and behavioral standards, why does it matter where the dogs come from? Arguably, using shelter dogs not only places homeless dogs in care, but it would be far less expensive.

Abbie Moore, executive director of Adopt-a-Pet.com makes this very point in the American Chronicle. The piece also claims that a search on this site pulled up over "4,000 purebred adoptable dogs matching the [DHS] criteria, and another 12,000 mixed-breed shepherds and retrievers."  

"I can’t think of a downside to adopting versus buying these dogs," said Moore. It’s the humane and prudent thing to do."

The DHS deadline for applications was this week –we’ll keep an eye out for the results. 

Hat tip: Mr. Joshua E. Keating

Today’s photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Reese with his dog Grek after hearing gunfire during a search for insurgents in Buhriz, Iraq, April 10, 2007.

 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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