What could be greater than sharing your home with a war hero? Giving them the support they need to cope with life as a civilian? Thanks to the military’s war dog adoption program, you can now adopt a military dog. Thousands of military war dogs (MWDs) are available for adoption every year, including young dogs who don’t complete training, and older dogs retiring from their working military careers.
These aren’t just any old dogs, however. They need special people who are aware of their violent and stressful history and who work to integrate them into peaceful society. This means that the screening process is strict and not every civilian home fits the bill.
Civilians also don’t get first crack at the ex-military dogs. That privilege belongs to retired war veterans and ex-military dog handlers. They have experience with working military dogs, and they’ve usually experienced what the dogs have experienced. Dogs and vets can help each other heal, especially if they both have PTSD.
Military working dogs rescue organisations
Some organisations specialize in adopting MWDs to retired veterans or civilians, such as Mission K9 Rescue. Mission K9 Rescue ensures that retired and retiring military workings dogs and contract working dogs (CWDs) go to safe, caring homes. The organisation is based in Houston, Texas and has satellite offices in San Antonio and Los Angeles. Its mission is to rescue, reunite, rehome, rehabilitate and ‘repair’ any retired service dog.
Mission K9 Rescue often works with Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, which is the hub for retiring military service dogs and dogs who didn’t complete their military training. Dogs are evaluated at Lackland before entering the adoption program to determine their suitability and which type of home suits them best. Dogs who aren’t ready for adoption enter a rehabilitation program to help them adjust to life outside of a war zone. They’re also helped with PTSD if necessary. Dogs who don’t pass the behavioral and adoption tests and who struggle with rehabilitation may stay at the base and train other military dogs.
There is also K9 Hero Haven in Herndon, Pennsylvania, which mostly specializes in adopting retired military and police dogs to combat veterans who are able to understand what the dogs have gone through and are better able to provide the proper support and care.
Iraq War veteran Danny Scheurer founded Save-a-Vet while stationed in Baghdad after he learnt that corporate-owned K9s would be left behind to save transport costs. The organization now rescues military and law enforcement working dogs and other service animals from euthanazia when they are no longer able to do their jobs. It also provides housing and relief for disabled veterans who help take care of these dogs. Save-a-Vet has a 4-point program which consists of:
If you want to adopt a retired military dog, you need to meet certain criteria and agree to certain responsibilities and obligations. For example, if you go through Mission K9 Rescue, the whole idea to provide these dogs with a comfortable retirement. Under any circumstances should they work as any kind of service dog.
On the other hand, adoptions through Lackland work slightly differently. Handlers and veterans get first priority, law enforcement get second priority and civilians get third pick of available military dogs.
Handlers adopt more than 90% of retired MWDs, according to US War Dogs.
Adoption checks include:
- A call to your veterinarian to make sure any pets you have or have had receive proper medical care
- You home must meet certain standards, which vary from dog to dog. For example, some dogs can’t live with children younger than 5 years old.
- Your work/life situation must allow enough time for you to bond and have fun with your new working dog. They need twice daily walks and playtime and almost constant companionship.
- You must be able to afford transportation costs to bring your new dog home. The only exception is if a dog is reunited with her handler. Then Mission K9 Rescue will cover the transportation.
- Your financial circumstances must be comfortable enough for you to take proper care of your dog, particularly when it comes to feeding quality food, quality medical care (including complementary care), and training and behavioral rehabilitation if required.
Helping a military dog adjust
One of the reasons home checks are so strict is that military dogs need help adjusting to civilian life. Their lives consisted of combat training and combat. They were trained on military grounds to carry out military activities, including explosives detection, search and rescue, and arson and cadaver detection. These are not activities that fit into normal life. A MWD may have obedience down to a T, but not know how to play. They might to settle or relax properly and suffer from severe separation anxiety.
One family who adopted a retired military dog said that he had to adjust to living with people who have a normal home routine and who have children and cats. He didn’t even know what a doorbell was or how to react to it. It took time and patience, moving at the dog’s pace for him to settle in the family. The family adopted another ex- military dog when the first one passed away from cancer, and he never adjusted to their grandchildren. To accommodate his needs, they actually ended up spending less time with their grandchildren than they would have liked. These are the kind of sacrifices that people who adopt a military dog have to be prepared to make.
According to MAC Chief Petty Officer Jason Silvis, who works with the MWDs at Lackland, there are usually over 200 families on the adoption waiting list, and only about 5 – 7 dogs are adopted each month. You need to realize that hundreds of applications are processed every month and be patient. Some families have had to wait more than 6 months for an interview.
Adoption is based on availability so you can’t choose a particular dog. As a rule the dogs are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labradors, with the occasional mixed breed. They can be anything between 1 and 13 years old. Remember that you’re doing a good thing by adopting a retired or retiring military working dog. They all deserve loving homes, so it shouldn’t matter which dog you get.
Dogs are thoroughly assessed so they go to the right homes.
- Suitable: Dogs are available to civilian families.
- Guarded: Dogs are available to veterans, experienced dog trainers and behaviorists.
- Not suitable: Dogs aren’t available to civilian families. They are only suitable for law enforcement or training new military dogs.
Alternatives to adoption
Fostering is another way to help military dogs. The catch is that you only look after them until they are 6 months old and enter the training program. It takes dedication, experience and emotional strength to raise a military dog, so think very carefully before you approach the MWD Breeding Program at Lackland.
You can ‘adopt’ a K9 unit and send care packages of treats, toys and other goodies to dogs in the field. Contact Save-a-Vet to find out what items are needed. It’s important to find out about banned items. You can adopt a K9 unit through Save-a-Vet.