Obscure law makes it tough for military dogs to be adopted after service

by: Scott MacFarlane, Washington Bureau Chief Updated:

Georgia military canine units are being trained at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - They survived running toward death and danger, but some locally trained military dogs of war are not making it home.

Instead, they're being euthanized.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane learned of an obscure U.S. law that is making it tough for military dogs to be adopted after their service is over.

Army Sgt. David Varkett survived his tour of duty in Afghanistan, because his unit included Nooshka, a 5- year-old dog that sniffed out an improvised bomb before it exploded.

"This dog has saved my life and many others," Varkett said. "She became a little local hero, finding those IEDs."

The U.S. military is now breeding 100 puppies a year, raising them and then training them for the front lines.

In an era of roadside bomb warfare, the bomb-sniffing dogs are remarkably useful. McFarlane went to Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas, where Georgia military canine units are training. He said the training is exhausting and intense.

Sgt. Jarred Palmer of Georgia, a Ft. Benning soldier, and his unit's Belgian Malinois, Zzazu, are inseparable.

"The dog lives with you, she's your best friend. She's your partner," Palmer said.

But for all the work, the military puts into training the dogs, federal law ties the military's hands in protecting the canines afterward.

A recent congressional memo obtained by Channel 2 Action News said there's an obscure federal rule technically classifying military canines as equipment, not personnel.

So animal advocates said after war the dogs aren't guaranteed transportation back home or medical care after service.

Would-be adopters would have to pay huge fees -- some in the thousands of dollars -- to foot those bills.

Would-be adopters can also be difficult to find. Many dogs sustain injuries requiring exorbitantly expensive veterinarian care.

A spokesman for the National War Dog Memorial said if no one adopts the dogs deemed too aggressive or too sick after combat, they are euthanized.

Shennie and Danny Patel had the money to adopt former Army bomb-sniffing dog Mickey.

"You were concerned Mickey was going to be put down?" MacFarlane asked.

"I was, actually. I was concerned he was going to be demilitarized," Shennie Patel said.

"I said, 'This dog is going to be put down if they don't find a home.' Twenty-four hours later, Danny says, 'Let's go get him,'" Shennie Patel said.

But she said the bureaucracy involved was maddening -- a year of red tape and unanswered phone calls.


There is legislation to close that federal loophole, to instead classify war dogs as "canine members of the armed forces" instead of equipment.

It'd require the military to ship the dogs home and allow nonprofits to help adopters foot the steep veterinarian bills.

But the bill is currently stalled in a gridlocked Congress.

David Varkett said he'd adopt his lifesaver after the dog retires.

"My wife considers her a family member too, because she brought me home to family," Varkett said.

But until the loophole is closed, Nooshka's future seems as uncertain after war as it was during.

An Air Force representative said the agency must follow all current federal laws.

The military does not have an official position on whether Congress should make any changes to the canine adoption system.

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