What Happens When Military Working Dogs Retire?

After about ten to twelve years of service, it’s usually time for a military working dog (MWD) to retire. However, unlike human soldiers, they don’t immediately get to enjoy the leisure of retirement. Hundreds of these loyal canines are sent to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, each year. Prior to November 2000, many of these dogs faced grim futures; they were often euthanized or abandoned in the battlefield because, despite their rank and the honors they receive, they were classified as equipment.

This changed with the enactment of H.R. 5314, “Robby’s Law,” signed by President Clinton in 2000. Robby’s Law revolutionized the way the Department of Defense (DoD) handles the retirement of military working dogs, ensuring these canine heroes are given the opportunity for a comfortable and safe civilian life.

A New Chapter for Retired MWDs

The DoD now takes extensive measures to ensure that every retiring MWD is provided the best possible chance for a fulfilling post-service life. Typically, a dog retires due to injury or illness, and more than 90% of these dogs are adopted by their handlers. This makes perfect sense, as the bond between a military working dog and its handler is strong, often referred to as a “battle buddy” relationship.

If the handler is unable to adopt the dog, the next preference is law enforcement agencies. Given their specialized training, these dogs are valuable assets to police forces. However, their usage is strictly regulated by the DoD, and only authorized departments can allow these dogs to perform patrol, security, or substance detection work.

Civilian Adoption: A Chance for a New Life

Sadly, many retired MWDs are not adopted by police forces due to their age or injuries. This is where civilians come in. Adoption isn’t a quick process; it involves careful screening and a long waiting list, often taking about a year to get the first interview. These dogs aren’t typical pets; they have often been deployed in combat zones, trained to sniff out explosives, and engage in combat. As a result, they can exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and may have difficulty socializing with other dogs or being playful.

The rigorous selection process for MWDs means that only the most energetic and playful puppies are chosen for combat roles. After years of service, many of these dogs show signs of nervous exhaustion and distress. However, it is scientifically proven that dogs, including these MWDs, can significantly benefit individuals suffering from PTSD.

How You Can Help

If you’re willing to wait, have a suitable living environment for a large dog, and are prepared to support a four-legged veteran, there are organizations that can assist you in the adoption process. Organizations like Save-A-Vet and Mission K9 Rescue are dedicated to helping these retired heroes find loving homes.

By opening your home to a retired MWD, you not only provide them with a well-deserved peaceful retirement but also gain a loyal companion who has served their country with courage and dedication.