In his USA Today column, Jonah Goldberg exposes a national disgrace I was completely unaware of, one that is almost too heartbreaking to comprehend: the United State military sometimes reclassifies combat dogs as “equipment” and abandons them to languish in shelters overseas in war zones.
Other than the fact that combat dogs save an average of 150 American lives during their service, these living creatures form strong emotional attachments to the men assigned to them. But when their time is up — when they become too old, combat fatigued or shall-shocked to be useful in combat — rather than transport them home for adoption, they are sometimes heartlessly abandoned.
Goldberg writes that…
It is one thing to ask these warriors to say goodbye to their dog when it is still on active duty and is assigned a new handler, which often happens. It is quite another to ask them to leave these dogs behind when the dogs are effectively abandoned overseas, left to languish in shelters — or worse. That’s why handlers are sometimes forced to make incredible sacrifices to get their four-legged comrades home on their own.
Those “incredible sacrifices” made by the dog’s handlers (also known as combat veterans), can mean an out-of-pocket cost of thousands of dollars.
Goldberg points out that there are a number of charities devoted to reuniting these dogs and their handlers but many animals still fall through the cracks; abandoned in a strange land after being cruelly separated from the one person they love and the only life they know. North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones is pushing legislation that would require retired military dogs be brought home for adoption, but it’s gone nowhere for over two years.
CNN points out that thanks to a 2000 law signed by President Clinton, things are better for combat dogs than they were. Still, this is happening, even with “half-empty cargo planes transversing the globe daily,” as Debbie Kandoll founder of Military Working Dog Adoptions told CNN.
“It would be more than feasible to place a retired military working dog on the transport plane back to the continental United States,” she added. “Uncle Sam got them over there, and it’s a point of honor for Uncle Sam to get his soldiers, whether they are four-legged or two-legged, back to the U.S.”
No one, including Goldberg, is comparing the life of an animal to a human being. That’s not the point. That’s a different debate. The point is that this is wrong, morally wrong in every sense of the word. We are talking about a life. Not a human life, but the life of an innocent animal capable of selflessness, courage, loyalty, friendship and love. And an animal capable of such things is of course capable of feeling abandonment, heartache, and loss.
If you (in this case, meaning the military and our country) assume the responsibility for the life of a dog in order to benefit from all the rewards that come with such a thing, you have a moral obligation to see that duty through to the end.
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