Bring home military dogs after battle

Published 10:22 am Friday, July 17, 2015

About 2,000 members of the American military have four legs, not two. These dogs, often used for sniffing out roadside bombs, serve with courage on the battlefield and have saved countless human lives.

When their tour of duty is done, they deserve a chance to find a family and fetch a Frisbee on the soil of the nation they helped defend. Fortunately, legislation that will ensure this happens has been introduced in Congress, with Minnesotans leading the charge for passage.

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a four-term Republican from the Twin Cities’ western suburbs, has teamed up with Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, to introduce the Military Working Dog Retirement Act of 2015. Three of Paulsen’s Minnesota Democratic colleagues — Reps. Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson — are early co-sponsors. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

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This conscientious legislation would ensure that no canine comrade is left behind when these animals cannot serve due to injury or because their skills are no longer needed. The military would transport the dogs home, where they would be offered for adoption. The bill also would help smooth the dogs’ military handlers’ path to adopting them.

Currently, these dogs are offered for adoption overseas, despite a long list of families stateside who want to give them a home. These dogs’ handlers also sometimes personally pay to bring dogs home, which may be cost-prohibitive on a service member’s pay.

An unofficial estimate puts the annual cost of this transport at about $175,000 — a minuscule sum in the military’s vast budget. Congress should include language from the bills in the finalized 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to expedite the measure’s path to passage.

Honoring these dogs’ service reflects positively on American values. The animals’ presence may also help their handlers adjust to civilian life and combat post-traumatic stress disorder. The measure is sensible, conscientious and compassionate, and it will benefit both humans and canines. It merits lawmakers’ and the public’s swift support.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by the Associated Press