Robby’s Law opened the door to military working dog adoptions
Our post about Rocky, a retired, disabled military working dog who was saved by our appeal, exposed a lot of misconceptions about the fate of military working dogs once they are retired from service.
Many of these animals are eligible for adoption and are placed into appropriate and loving homes. Some are deemed not safe for adoption.
Until recently, it was legal and common practice to abandon or put down military working dogs, known as MWDs, at the end of their useful service.
Historically viewed as “surplus equipment,” MWDs were not seen as having value beyond the military purpose for which they were trained. That mindset has changed dramatically, due in no small part to the public’s growing awareness of how these animals were treated after years of dutiful service.
But it was one military war dog in particular – a dog named Robby – whose own fate changed that of other MWDs to come.
Robby’s Law (H.R.5314) was signed by President Bill Clinton in November 2000 and required that all MWDs suitable for adoption be available for placement after their service. Unfortunately it was too late to save Robby, whose former handler fought valiantly to adopt him, to no avail.
Working dogs versus family pets
It is important to realize that these animals are unlike those you might have in your home or find in your local shelter.
Not every retired MWD makes a great addition to the family. They are highly trained – often for lethal purposes – and traits that are desirable in a military canine might make them unsuitable as a family pet. While fiercely loyal, they are often independent-minded and have different triggers, or trained responses, to various verbal or physical commands.
In many cases these dogs are not recommended for families with small children or other pets. Some are deemed unsuitable for adoption for a variety of reasons, including extreme aggression.
Because of their unique temperaments and training, the military does not surrender de-commissioned military working dogs to shelters, rescues or sanctuaries for placement.
How to adopt a retired military working dog
All military working dog adoptions are managed through the 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio. This is the home of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Adoption Program.
Through a careful process of evaluation and selection, experienced military personnel place an estimated 300-400 “excessed” MWDs each year.
If a dog is still serviceable upon its disposition – or official retirement – from the military, he may be transitioned to work in civilian law enforcement. However, a dog who is no longer serviceable may be made available for adoption.
The order of priority typically is former military handlers, other military veterans, and then the general public.
Please do not contact us or comment in this post to ask about adopting a retired MWD. Pets for Patriots is not involved in MWD adoptions, nor is any other private organization or nonprofit. You must contact Joint Base San Antonio directly.
What happened to Rocky?
Many people were outraged at the prospect that Rocky would be put down: a 9-1/2 year old, disabled retired MWD and three tour Iraq war veteran. Most thought it callous that the military would simply end his life after he had given his in service, but that is simply not the case.
Like many working canines, during his last few years of service Rocky had many different handlers. While the vast majority of war dogs are adopted by their handlers – more than 90% – Rocky no longer had a steady handler. He had no special bond with any one person.
Rocky was eligible to be adopted by other military personnel who might have wanted him.
However, the unique challenges of his disability meant that Rocky could not go to any home. He needed someone who had ample time and patience to care for him. Since no suitable adopter was found and the kennels on base are ill equipped to address disabled animals, the military felt it had no choice but to slate him for euthanasia.
By chance, Pets for Patriots was contacted by a concerned animal lover.
After verifying the story and basic facts we posted Rocky’s plight and – well, the rest is history. More than 50,000 hits to our post, a flood of applicants from all over the country, and Rocky was adopted.
We remain grateful to the veterinary team at Camp Pendleton who shared Rocky’s story and gave us the opportunity to save his life.