News & Politics

The Forgotten War Dogs of Afghanistan

Army dog Chips receives PDSA Dickin medal. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire URN:34469400

They endured the same danger and hardships as their human companions. They were valued friends and trusted comrades on the battlefield.

But after their discharge from the military, the war dogs who saved countless lives sniffing out bombs in Afghanistan were neglected and mistreated, according to a report obtained by Reuters.

An investigation was started after soldiers who had handled the dogs complained about the fate of their four-legged saviors.

Army personnel who handled them said that once the dogs returned to the United States, some were left in kennels for up to 11 months, mistreated through lack of care and attention, and others may have been put down, according to the report. No screening was done of people who wanted to adopt the dogs.

Several soldiers searched for and rescued their dogs from Army kennels, the report said.

Army spokesmen did not respond to multiple telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Reuters was unable to reach former soldiers who had issued complaints containing accusations of mistreatment of dogs with which they had worked.

The dogs served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. The report faulted the Army for ignoring multiple Pentagon rules concerning the handling of dogs serving in the military.

“The Army did not use the DOD Working Dog Management system, as required by the Joint Military Working Dog Instruction and Army Regulation 190-12,” the Inspector General said in its report.

The report also said that the Army improperly hired a private contractor to provide the dogs, breaking a rule that requires obtaining military dogs from the Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron, responsible for teaching and distributing new active-duty dogs to all of the military services.

These dogs were not pets in any sense of the word. They were highly trained soldiers, as important to the successful operation of the units they were attached to as any human — perhaps, more so.

But the Army bureaucracy appears to be so messed up in this area, so chaotic that the dogs simply fell through the cracks. I can’t believe there was any deliberate cruelty involved in this, not when so many of the dogs’ handlers were concerned about their adjustment to life after service.

It’s easy for humans to anthropomorphize dogs. We can ascribe human characteristics to our canine friends so readily because they seem capable of extraordinary things. But the soldiers who knew these dogs best will tell you of their uncommon courage and devotion to the humans in their outfit. They were aware of the dangers of combat and still performed their duties with the same professionalism as the humans in their units.

They deserve far better than they’ve gotten. And I hope this report will make that a reality.