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Advocates Say Military Dogs Aren’t Pets They’re Veterans

It’s dog days on Capitol Hill or, more precisely, dogs have had their day there.

Five in particular all war dog veterans. The canines joined their human advocates at a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday, “Military Dogs Take the Hill,” to spotlight an effort to require that all military working dogs be retired to the U.S.

Congress passed a law last year saying the military may bring back its working dogs to the U.S. to be reunited with their handlers, but it does not say they must be brought back.

David Welna/NPR
“We’re suggesting today that an easy solution, so very easy, is just to mandate that the dogs are returned to U.S. soil before they’re retired,” said Robin Ganzert, president of the American Humane Association, which hosted Wednesday’s event. “And then, of course, these wonderful groups that we work with can work with the military to make sure the dogs are reunited.”

Several House members were on hand to show their support. Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus recalled the key role dogs played when she served as a state legislator.

“We always had a rule: If you wanted to get your bill passed, just show up with a dog. That always won people’s hearts over, so I think we’re in pretty good shape here,” Titus said.

Three years ago, Ruby Ridpath learned from an Air Force captain in Kabul that Carlos, a yellow Lab who specialized in sniffing out explosives during five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, was being retired.

“And I said, ‘Bring him home.’ Three words, that’s all it took: Bring him home,” she says. Ridpath and her family adopted Carlos in 2011.

She considers him a vet, not a pet. And she thinks he deserves more help from the government he served.

“I’d like to see that there be some medical assistance, because for Carlos, I’ve spent almost $10,000 in medical costs for him. He’s been worth every penny, but it’s quite excessive at times,” she says.

In this image from the June issue of National Geographic, Jose Armenta and his wife, Eliana, relax with their Boston terriers Oreo and Sassy, and Zenit, a German shepherd they adopted from the Marines.
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Marine Cpl. Daniel Cornier and his colleague, Chaak, in Afghanistan. “Pretty much trust him with my life,” Cornier says.
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A U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico as part of exercise Emerald Warrior 2011 on March 1, 2011.
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Others want to see more of an effort made to reunite war dogs with their handlers. Kristen Maurer heads Mission K9 Rescue, a group that helps handlers when they come back without their dogs.

“They all ask me the same thing. They say, ‘Can you help me get my dog?’ The words are not what strikes me. It’s their tone of voice almost a desperation,” Maurer says.

One such handler is a Marine vet named Deano Miller, who was in Afghanistan four years ago with a yellow Lab named Thor.

“He’d never leave my side. He was never on leash. He was never in a kennel. He was always just I didn’t have to worry about that. He didn’t leave me,” Miller says.

But Miller had to leave Thor behind at the end of his tour. “So I had to wait 3 1/2 years for him, but I’d wait more if I had to. … I was like, if he’s 10 years [old] and has one leg, I’ll still take him.

“And they used to think I’m joking, but I was serious,” Miller says.

In May, the two were reunited. “Everything’s a lot better now at home, and it wouldn’t be possible if I wouldn’t have him,” Miller says.

Miller says his shadow has come back.

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